Chlamydia is one of the more common bacterial infections among people of all genders, and it can be a tricky one to spot due to its fairly invisible symptoms. Here, Dr Clare Morrison of MedExpress explains everything you need to know about it.
It’s not actually as dangerous as you might think
“Considering how common it is, chlamydia doesn’t often cause serious illness directly, though it can occasionally require hospitalisation in severe cases," Dr Clare explains. "However, it is a threat to fertility, particularly if there are recurrent infections, and particularly in women and people with wombs. The damage it causes to the reproductive system can also increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition where the embryo gets stuck in the fallopian tube instead of implanting in the uterus.”
Chlamydia can be symptomless
“In women and people with vaginas, symptoms include vaginal discharge, pelvic or abdominal pain, painful intercourse, pain when passing urine, and bleeding between periods. In men and penis-havers, symptoms include discharge from the penis and painful testicles," Dr Clare explains.
"However, it doesn’t always cause symptoms, and it is possible to have it without any indication that something's wrong. In fact, at least half of people with chlamydia get no symptoms at all. In this situation, there's a danger that the person may not seek treatment and may unwittingly carry it for years.”
There are myths surrounding the condition
You've probably heard loads of rumours about chlamydia, and they're probably bullshit Dr Clare explains. “Some people worry that they could catch chlamydia from sharing towels or toilet seats, but this isn’t the case. Some think that you can’t catch chlamydia unless you have multiple partners, but it is possible to catch chlamydia from just one partner, if they have had sex with someone else previously.”
Chlamydia can cause other conditions
“Chlamydia generally affects the cervix and the penis. However, it can also affect the throat, rectum and eyes. Occasionally chlamydia can cause a type of arthritis, with multiple joint pains and stiffness. If a baby is born while the mother has untreated chlamydia, they may suffer from eye or chest infections.”
It’s actually pretty common
“Chlamydia is all too common, particularly among those in their teens and early 20s," Dr Clare says. "In 2017, over 126,000 chlamydia diagnoses were made among young people aged 15 to 24 in the UK.”
You don’t have to have intercourse to contract it
Chlamydia's caused by a bacteria that can be spread in bodily fluids through direct genital contact. Dr Clare explains, "You can contract chlamydia through unprotected vaginal or anal sex, intimate genital contact and sharing sex toys.”
It can affect fertility if left untreated
“If chlamydia is left untreated it can spread throughout the pelvis, including the fallopian tubes. This is a type of pelvic inflammatory disease, and is associated with scarring and infertility," she says. "Men and those with penises can also suffer from infertility, but women and vagina-havers are most at risk. It's not inevitable that chlamydia will cause infertility, but there is undoubtedly a risk. And, it may not be apparent until several years later when someone tries to get pregnant.”
It can be easily treated
“Chlamydia is easily treatable, with prescribed antibiotics, usually azithromycin or doxycycline. If you discover that you are infected, do make sure that your partner is treated as well."
And the only way to be sure to prevent chlamydia? Use a condom or dental dam before any intimate contact. If you are at risk, get checked regularly, particularly if you have a new sex partner.”