- Early diagnosis and prompt treatment of chlamydia reduces the risk of complications,
- Regular screening and seeking medical attention if signs do appear can help prevent the infection from spreading and causing long-term problems,
- Get tested even after treatment.
If chlamydia is not treated, it can spread to other parts of the body and cause the following:
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). Chlamydia is one of the main causes of PID and occurs when the ovaries, fallopian tubes and womb become infected. PID can lead to an ectopic pregnancy which represents a serious health risk for the mother. Around 10% of women who suffer from PID become infertile as a result. PID can be difficult to diagnose as symptoms can be mild like: pain during sex or bleeding between periods.
In severe cases PID can also cause persistent pelvic pain.
- Cervicitis (inflammation of the cervix; the neck of the womb). Cervicitis is often symptomless and can only be diagnosed with a routine test. If you do get symptoms, they can include: a pale yellow vaginal discharge, pain during sex, the need to pee frequently, pain in the pelvis and back and discomfort in the lower stomach. In chronic cervicitis, the cervix may swell and develop cysts that can become infected.
If you are HIV-positive, treatment with antibiotics is a necessity.
- Salpingitis (blocked fallopian tubes). If chlamydia causes inflammation in one or both of the fallopian tubes, it reduces the chance of a woman becoming pregnant. Swelling causes a blockage that makes it difficult for the egg to travel from the ovary to the womb. Even if a fallopian tube is partially blocked, the risk of ectopic pregnancy or infertility is high.
Blocked fallopian tubes can sometimes be treated with surgery.
- Bartholinitis (swelling of the glands near the opening of the vagina). Bartholin's glands are two pea-size tubes, located just behind the labia (vaginal lips) that produce the natural lubricant released during sex. Infection by chlamydia can cause the glands to become blocked, leading to a Bartholin's abscess. That's an ulcer which usually appears only on one side of the vagina at a time, and it makes it red, swollen, and warm to the touch. Sometimes it's accompanied with a fever.
An infected abscess will need to be treated with antibiotics.
Without treatment, the following complications can arise:
- Infertility. Chlamydia can damage the quality of sperm and prevent men from fathering a child. The infection can affect the motility (ability to swim well) of sperm and produce sperm with a much higher number of physical defects.
- Urethritis (inflammation of the tube that carries pee from the bladder). Although this is often symptomless, signs to look out for include: a discharge of yellow pus or mucus, the opening of the penis can also be sore and irritated, pain or burning sensation when you pee or the need to pee frequently. When left untreated it leads to damage of the kidneys, pain near the testicles, infection of the prostate gland and painful urination.
All this can be avoided with regular screening and antibiotics will clear it.
- Epididymitis (swelling in the epididymis: the tubes that carry sperm to the testicles). Chlamydia can lead to swelling and tenderness in the epididymis, a coil of tubes located in the scrotum. If the testicle becomes inflamed it is called epididymo-orchitis. Symptoms include: a red, swollen and tender scrotum (ball sack), pain in the testicles, pain when you pee, the need to pee frequently, discharge from the penis, blood in the semen, pain before and during ejaculation and pain during sex. Swelling of the inguinal nodes (the lymph nodes in the groin) can lead to a lump in the testicle.
Epididymitis can be mistaken for an inguinal hernia but with the right diagnosis, it can be treated with antibiotics.
- Reactive arthritis. Formerly called Reiter's syndrome, it leads to inflammation and swelling in the joints, the eyes (causing conjunctivitis) and the urethra (the tube from which you pee). Serious inflammation can affect the kidneys, the heart, the lungs, the skin and mouth and in rare cases, the liver, the spleen, the gall bladder and the pancreas. Symptoms include: pain when you pee and occasionally diarrhoea if the intestines are inflamed.
Reactive arthritiscan can also cause mild anaemia.
All these complications can be avoided if man or women get tested for chlamydia once a year or every time they have a new partner. To make sure that you are not infected you can order a chlamydia test kit online that is easy to use and discreet. Your test results will be available within 4 hours or 24 hours (depends which option you choose) after it reaches the laboratory.