Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Although this is due in part to the ease with which the bacteria transfers during sexual contact (whether vaginal, oral, or anal), it is largely because symptoms of the infection fail to appear in up to 90% of cases.
Although health care providers and sex education instructors the world over espouse the necessity of regular screenings for at-risk individuals (those who have sexual contact with more than one partner, especially without the use of condoms), there are still millions of infections running rampant. Because of chlamydia’s silence, the infection often goes untreated. At the start, the symptoms are bad enough—painful intercourse, a burning sensation during urination, bleeding of the vagina or rectum, and swelling of the cervix or testicles. However, when left unchecked, serious and sometimes irreversible complications can arise.
The Long-Term Effects in Women
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is the most common result of an untreated chlamydia infection in women. This occurs when the infection begins to spread into the more internal reproductive organs, causing scarring and permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries. If the infection spreads far enough, it can cause pelvic pain and complications with becoming pregnant. Infertility is the most serious of the issues that develop from chlamydia induced PID. Infants born to mothers with chlamydia may develop pneumonia or the infection itself, specifically chlamydia conjunctivitis, which is an infection of the eyes that leads to blindness. Chlamydia can also cause premature birth and miscarriage.
The Long-Term Effects in Men
The long term repercussions are equally as damaging for men. The infection can spread into the urethral tube, causing swelling and pain while urinating, although this can often be dealt with through antibiotics. It can also spread to the prostate gland, causing inflammation and rectal bleeding. The epididymis, a tube in the back of the testicles that carries sperm, may also be affected; it becomes inflamed, swollen, and sore from the bacteria. If not treated within a couple of months, the infection can cause sterility in men as well. Reactive arthritis, although it can develop in anyone, is most common in young men. This occurs when chlamydia develops in the eye, the urethra becomes inflamed, and arthritis develops in the joints.