It is no secret that young, sexually active men and women tend to catch and pass on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) routinely and easily. The number of partners, relatively short durations of relationships, availability of other single people and other factors all play in to a population that contracts diseases easily.
While sex is certainly fun, it has its dark underbelly – one of which is the fact that many STDs don’t manifest outward symptoms for quite a while. Chlamydia is one of these. When it does show itself in symptoms, it often doesn’t do so for months, or weeks at a minimum.
To stay as safe as possible, it’s critical women know what signs to look for and take steps to protect themselves from catching chlamydia and transmitting it to others. Failing that, you must know what to do in case you contract it. The good news is, defeating chlamydia isn’t difficult as long as you take the right steps.
First, a primer on what it is and what you should know about it.
What Is Chlamydia?
“Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the US,” explains the Center for Young Women's Health. “It’s caused by bacteria that can infect the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, anus, urethra, throat, or eye.” (1)
Its full name is Chlamydia trachomatis, bacteria that are transmitted through sexual fluids but can infect other organs as well, especially sensory organs. Once transmitted, chlamydia can remain undetected for long periods of time, growing steadily and doing damage without leaving outward symptoms.
Why Is It Important to Catch Chlamydia Early?
Sadly, chlamydia can and does go uncaught in women all the time. Left untreated, it can lead to severe complications that can affect your future reproductive health and wellness in general. Some of the long-term consequences of failing to treat chlamydia include (2):
- Spreading to reproductive organs, such as ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus
- Causing infertility or sterility
- Causing ectopic pregnancies, which are potentially fatal
- Passing chlamydia to a baby born through vaginal delivery
According to some sources, having chlamydia while pregnant may also cause you to deliver your baby before your due date. (3) Given the extensive range of dangers associated with preterm birth, it is critical you get tested during pregnancy to ensure you do not complicate your delivery or jeopardize your baby’s health.
For obvious reasons, no woman wants to go through any of the above. That’s why you should know the signs and symptoms of chlamydia, so you’re ready to respond to them should they arise.
How Women’s Anatomy Complicates Disease
First it is important to note that STDs affect women differently than men. There are several anatomical differences that impact a woman’s situation as compared to a man’s, including (4):
- The moist nature of the vagina makes for a good environment in which to contract and foster bacterial disease
- Thin skin in the vagina is more prone to tearing than other bodily structures, which gives the disease easy entrance
- Women are less likely to have outward symptoms of STDs, chlamydia included
- Women have other, less severe issues that can mimic chlamydia, such as yeast infections
- Symptoms are often tucked up inside a woman’s body, making the disease harder to spot
Signs and Symptoms of Chlamydia
That said, it’s very important to be on the lookout at all times for STD symptoms, especially if you have recently had unprotected sex, have multiple partners, engage in riskier activities (such as anal sex) or haven’t been tested in a while. Symptoms most commonly associated with chlamydia include (5):
- Pain while having sex (oral, vaginal or anal)
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding following intercourse
- Pain in the belly
- Needing to urinate more often than usual
- Pain, burning or itching during urinating
- Itching in the vaginal area
- Unusual discharge from the vagina
- Bleeding or discharge from the anus
- Pain or itching in the anus
- Redness, itching or weeping in the eyes
- Sore throat
Note that all of these symptoms in women are similar to gonorrhea, which is another reason it’s important to stay on the lookout for STDs. Gonorrhea is also potentially fatal, and can cause fevers, infection, arthritis, dangerous pregnancies, chronic pelvic pain and more. (6)
Because these symptoms don’t manifest for weeks at the absolute earliest, you can remain symptom-free for months or even years. However, that does not mean that the disease is not progressing, potentially affecting your reproductive system and passing to other partners. Not only does it put you in danger, it also endangers the health of other men, women and their babies.
Bottom line: At all possible, you should avoid getting chlamydia. If there’s a chance you have contracted it, you want to find out right away.
How to Protect Yourself from Chlamydia and Its Consequences
The good news is, women are more likely to take a proactive approach to their sexual and reproductive health, which means you are already likely to visit your doctor regularly. If you don’t, it’s time to change that, since leaving a disease untreated for even a few months can have dire consequences, especially if you are pregnant – in which case, you should get tested immediately.
If you are sexually active and wish to keep yourself as safe as possible, the best approach is to minimize the number of partners with whom you engage. Ideally you only engage with one partner at a time, and you know that partner’s sexual history and STD status. Otherwise, you are being unfair to the other partner in the relationship, who may trust you to keep them safe. This is true whether your partners are male or female (remember, it is possible for chlamydia to spread orally).
Other ways to protect yourself include:
- Using protection when engaging in oral, vaginal or anal sex
- Having sex with full knowledge of your actions, and not when in a compromised state
- Asking your partners about their health history and requesting that they get tested before you have sex with them
- Getting tested regularly yourself
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 STD test kit today.
(1) Chlamydia. (2016). Retrieved from https://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/11/20/chlamydia/
(2) Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm
(3) Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stdfact-chlamydia.htm
(4) 10 Ways STDs Impact Women Differently from Men. (2011). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/health-disparities/stds-women-042011.pdf
(5) Chlamydia. (2016). Retrieved from https://youngwomenshealth.org/2012/11/20/chlamydia/
(6) Gonorrhea - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed Version). (2016). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm