Chlamydia is a common type of sexually transmitted disease (STD) that is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Many people who contract the bacteria do not experience any physical symptoms for several weeks after becoming infected. When symptoms do appear, they range from mild pain to unusual discharge from the reproductive organs. Long-term effects of chlamydia can include severe inflammation of the reproductive system, among others. Chlamydia can be prevented by abstaining from sexual intercourse or using a condom. When the condition is detected early, it can be effectively treated with antibiotics to prevent any permanent health problems.
The most common effects of chlamydia are burning urination and chronic abdominal pain. An individual may also experience a milky white or yellow discharge from the penis or vagina. Women may notice irregular spotting between periods and pain during sexual intercourse. A man's testicles may feel tender to the touch and swell slightly. It is important to realize that these symptoms are not present in all people with chlamydia; most people are asymptomatic for weeks or even months after being infected with the STD.
If chlamydia goes unnoticed and untreated, the infection can spread throughout the reproductive system. Potential effects of chlamydia in men include chronic testicular pain and inflammation, a condition known as epididymitis. The prostate gland can also become infected, leading to lower back pain, chills and fever. Discharge may become thicker and present a strong odor.
Women generally face a wider range of effects of chlamydia than men. In its later stages, the infection can reach the cervix and fallopian tubes, where it can cause irritation, pain and tissue scarring. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an uncommon but potentially fatal complication in which the entire reproductive system becomes severely inflamed. PID can cause irreversible scarring and organ damage that can lead to infertility and chronic pain.
The effects of chlamydia can be extended to an unborn baby if a pregnant woman carries the bacteria. PID and other complications can lead to an ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg cannot make its way down an inflamed fallopian tube to the womb. As the embryo begins to grow and develop, the mother can suffer from debilitating pain and bleeding. In almost all cases, the embryo must be surgically removed in order to prevent the mother's death.
Medical treatment is necessary to stop the spread of the bacteria and prevent lasting effects of chlamydia. Specialists can check for the bacteria by taking a sample of mucous from the penis or cervix using a cotton swap. After making a diagnosis, a doctor will prescribe a series of oral antibiotics. Medication usually eradicates chlamydia and completely relieves symptoms in one to two weeks. Since the condition is often asymptomatic, doctors generally recommend that sexually active people use contraceptives and be screened for diseases regularly to avoid complications.