- Symptoms & Signs
Facts You Should Know About Chlamydia in Women
- There is no "safe" sex.
- Condoms do not necessarily prevent STDs.
- Gonorrhea and chlamydia are bacterial STDs that are frequently found together.
- Condoms are useful in decreasing the spread of certain infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea
- Chlamydia infection is treated with antibiotics.
- Chlamydia infection can lead to extensive destruction of the fallopian tubes and fertility problems.
What Are Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)?
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that can be transferred from one person to another through any type of sexual contact. STDs are sometimes referred to as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) since they involve the transmission of a disease-causing organism from one person to another during sexual activity. It is important to realize that sexual contact includes more than just sexual intercourse (vaginal and anal). Sexual contact includes kissing, oral-genital contact, and the use of sexual "toys," such as vibrators. STDs probably have been around for thousands of years, but the most dangerous of these conditions, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), has only been recognized since 1984.
Many STDs are treatable, but effective cures are lacking for others, such as HIV, HPV, and hepatitis B and C. Even gonorrhea, once easily cured, has become resistant to many of the older traditional antibiotics. Many STDs can be present in, and spread by, people who do not have any symptoms of the condition and have not yet been diagnosed with an STD. Therefore, public awareness and education about these infections and the methods of preventing them is important.
There really is no such thing as "safe" sex. The only truly effective way to prevent STDs is abstinence. Sex in the context of a monogamous relationship wherein neither party is infected with a STD also is considered "safe." Most people think that kissing is a safe activity. Unfortunately, syphilis, herpes, and other infections can be contracted through this relatively simple and apparently harmless act. All other forms of sexual contact carry some risk. Condoms are commonly thought to protect against STDs.
Condoms are useful in decreasing the spread of certain infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea; however, they do not fully protect against other infections such as genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis, and AIDS. Prevention of the spread of STDs is dependent upon the counseling of at-risk individuals and the early diagnosis and treatment of infections.
What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Chlamydia in Women?
The majority of women with chlamydia do not have symptoms.
Cervicitis (infection of the uterine cervix) is the most common manifestation of the infection. While about half of women with chlamydial cervicitis have no symptoms, others may experience vaginal discharge or abdominal pain.
Infection of the urethra is often associated with chlamydial infection of the cervix. Women with infection of the urethra (urethritis) have the typical symptoms of a urinary tract infection, including pain upon urination and the frequent and urgent need to urinate.
Chlamydia is very destructive to the Fallopian tubes. It can also cause severe pelvic infection. If untreated, some women with chlamydia will develop pelvic inflammatory disease. Symptoms of pelvic infection include:
- Pelvic cramping
- Abdominal pain
- Pain with intercourse.
- Pelvic infection can lead to difficulty in becoming pregnant or even sterility. Occasionally, if the infection is severe enough, a localized area of infection and pus (an abscess) forms, and major surgery may be necessary.
Because it is common for infected women to have no symptoms, chlamydial infection is often untreated and results in harm to the Fallopian tubes, fertility problems and tubal pregnancy.
Chlamydial infection, like gonorrhea, is associated with an increased incidence of premature births. In addition, the fetus can acquire the infection during passage through the infected birth canal, leading to serious eye damage or pneumonia. For this reason, all newborns are treated with eye drops containing an antibiotic that kills chlamydia. Treatment of all newborns is routine because of the large number of infected women without symptoms and the serious consequences of chlamydial eye infection to the newborn.
What Causes Chlamydia in Women?
Chlamydia (Chlamydia trachomatis) is a bacterium that causes an infection that is very similar to gonorrhea in the way that it is spread and the symptoms it produces. Like gonorrhea, the chlamydia bacterium is found in the cervix and urethra and can live in the throat or rectum. Both infected men and infected women frequently lack symptoms of chlamydia infection. Thus, these individuals can unknowingly spread the infection to others. Another strain (type) of Chlamydia trachomatis, which can be distinguished in specialized laboratories, causes the STD known as lymphogranuloma venereum, which affects the lymph glands.
How Do Medical Professionals Diagnose Chlamydia in Women?
Chlamydia can be detected on material collected by swabbing the cervix during a traditional examination using a speculum, but noninvasive screening tests done on urine or on self-collected vaginal swabs are less expensive and sometimes more acceptable to patients. While culturing of the organism can confirm the diagnosis, this method is limited to research laboratories and forensic investigations. For routine diagnostic use, newer and inexpensive diagnostic tests that depend upon identification and amplification of the genetic material of the organism have replaced the older, time-consuming culture methods.
What Is the Treatment for Chlamydia in Women?
Treatment of chlamydia involves antibiotics.
- A convenient single-dose therapy for chlamydia is 1 gm of azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) by mouth.
- Alternative treatments can also be used, however, because of the high cost of this medication.
- The most common alternative treatment is a 100 mg oral dose of doxycycline (Vibramycin, Oracea, Adoxa, Atridox and others) twice per day for seven days.
- Unlike gonorrhea, there has been little, if any, resistance of chlamydia to currently used antibiotics.
- There are many other antibiotics that also have been effective against chlamydia.
- As with gonorrhea, a condom or other protective barrier prevents the spread of the infection.
- Sexual partners also require treatment.
- Follow-up testing to confirm the success of the treatment is important.
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United States. CDC. "Chlamydia - CDC Fact Sheet."
UpToDate. "Patient information: Chlamydia (Beyond the Basics)."