Getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. They’re embarrassing, potentially uncomfortable and cause all sorts of problems in the moment, from healthcare costs to having to tell partners to get tested. Overall, it’s a major pain and best avoided.
That becomes more troublesome, however, when there are no symptoms present. Even when there are symptoms of STDs, they may lurk as other, more minor issues. Chlamydia is particularly good at flying under the radar, meaning that some people carry the disease for months or even years without knowing it, transmitting it to partners and putting themselves at increased risk for health problems all the while.
It’s likely, however, that people would be less cavalier about the presence of STDs if they understood the potential consequences of them better. That’s why we’re here today to discuss the downsides of leaving chlamydia untreated, as well as what you can do to avoid contracting it in future.
What Is Chlamydia?
Chlamydia is an STD that is spread by vaginal, oral and anal intercourse, as well as by getting sexual fluids in the eyes. The bacteria, Chlamydia trachomatis, spreads by contact between moist mucus membranes as well as hands or body surfaces moistened with sexual fluids. Bacteria take up residence in cells, where they actively deplete the body’s energy source (ATP) by putting it to use for the bacteria instead of the host.
In addition to causing more superficial symptoms – such as itching and burning, pain while urinating, unusual discharge and bleeding, and belly pain – chlamydia can also cause serious complications.
Below are some of the main risks people take when they do not practice safe sex and don’t get tested for/treat chlamydia in a timely fashion.
What Are the Main Risks & Complications of Chlamydia?
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
“Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female reproductive organs,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “It usually occurs when sexually transmitted bacteria spread from your vagina to your uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries.” (1) Symptoms include:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Heavy or unusual discharge
- Pain in the abdomen
- Pain or bleeding during intercourse
- Fever and chills
- Difficulty urinating
- Nausea and vomiting
If left untreated too long, PID can have consequences for childbearing, discussed below.
Chlamydia makes it more likely that a woman will have an ectopic pregnancy, which is where the embryo starts to grow inside a fallopian tube rather than inside the uterus. This is dangerous and potentially life-threatening to the mother. (2)
Prostate and Testicular Issues
The Mayo Clinic reports that untreated chlamydia in pen can lead to trouble in both the prostate gland and the testicles. As they explain, “A chlamydia infection can inflame the coiled tube located beside each testicle (epididymis). The infection may result in fever, scrotal pain and swelling.” Also, “The chlamydia organism can spread to a man's prostate gland. Prostatitis may result in pain during or after sex, fever and chills, painful urination, and lower back pain.” (3) In addition to the discomfort and inconvenience of such issues, chlamydia can have more serious and long-lasting repercussions for fertility.
Fertility Problems and Sterility
Anyone interested in having children should be especially careful of chlamydia. For both men and women, infertility issues can arise from chlamydia that goes untreated for long periods of time. Chlamydia can invade, infect and damage organs in both sexes, making it difficult or even impossible to conceive. In severe cases, it can cause total sterility.
Transferring Chlamydia to an Infant at Birth
Because chlamydia can pass from the mother to the child during delivery, it is extremely important you are free of disease when you give birth. Otherwise, chlamydia can take root in the eyes – causing conjunctivitis – or mouth, causing pneumonia, coughing and other potentially deadly effects.
Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Having chlamydia also makes you more likely to get other STDs. Not only are chlamydia and other infections correlated – because sleeping with an infected partner increases your likelihood that you are exchanging fluids with someone who has multiple diseases – but they also create openings for other diseases to get in. The sores and inflammation caused by chlamydia, for instance, can create an entryway for a serious disease such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can turn into AIDS and lead to death. (4)
Another risk posed by chlamydia is the fact that your body doesn’t build up an immunity to it. Unlike some other diseases (chicken pox, say) that your body won’t contract again once you’ve had it, chlamydia is very capable of reinfecting hosts. Even if you have taken a course of antibiotics against it, there’s a good chance you’ll get it again if you continue to have unprotected sex.
How to Prevent Contracting Chlamydia
The best ways to keep from getting chlamydia – or any STD – is to practice safe sex. Planned Parenthood points out that the correct terminology is not in fact “safe sex,” since all sex carries some risks unless you are fully monogamous and have not had any other partner since you were both tested. Instead, think of it as “safer sex,” in which you take certain steps to minimize your risk of infection, and in turn reduce your risks of the above complications.
Safer sex tips include (5):
- Using a barrier, such as a condom or internal condom
- Restricting your activities to activities that don’t spread STDs such as “outercourse” until you have a better idea of your partner’s sexual history
- Using barriers for oral sex
- Making your sexual decisions with full awareness, and not while intoxicated
- Getting tested regularly
Should I Get Tested?
The answer to this question is a resounding yes. By getting tested, you dramatically reduce your chances of passing an STD to another person. Imagine how much safer the world would be if more people got tested every time they had an uncertain sexual encounter (such as with a new partner, without protection or while drunk).
Regular testing is especially important if you have had unprotected sex since your last test. Are you sexually active? Regular screening is an essential part of a healthy sex life and can protect you and your partners from chlamydia. For affordable and accurate STD screening in the privacy of your own home, request your chlamydia at home test kit today.
(1) Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594
(2) Link Between Chlamydia and Ectopic Pregnancy Explained. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110111132717.htm
(3) Chlamydia Trachomatis. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chlamydia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355349
(4) STDs and HIV – CDC Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/stdfact-std-hiv-detailed.htm
(5) Safer Sex. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/safer-sex