At least half of people with chlamydia don't experience any symptoms, so it is possible to have the sexually transmitted infection (STI) without realising it. According to Dr Elna Rudolph, a medical doctor and sexologist from My Sexual Health, it is possible to develop complications over time if the infection goes untreated, particularly if you get infected repeatedly.
Complications for women
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): "The most serious complication is pelvic inflammatory disease," says Dr Rudolph, "where the infection goes into the fallopian tubes and around the ovaries and other areas in the pelvis."
- Infertility: PID can cause scarring and obstruction in the fallopian tubes, which can result in infertility. It can also increase your risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.
- Increased risk of STIs: "If you have untreated chlamydia, you are actually at much higher risk of contracting other infections such as gonorrhoea and HIV," explains Dr Rudolph.
- Infection in newborns: Chlamydia can be passed from a mother to her child during delivery. According to Dr Rudolph, this usually results in an eye infection, which can be treated with an antibiotic ointment.
Complications for men
- Epididymitis and prostatitis: "Chlamydia can cause infections of the epididymis, the sperm pipe next to the testicles, or an infection in the prostate that can cause pain during intercourse, fever and chills," says Dr Rudolph.
- Urethritis: Inflammation of the urethra (urine tube) is most commonly caused by chlamydia. Symptoms of urethritis include a cloudy white discharge from the tip of the penis and pain or burning during urination.
- Reiter Syndrome: "Occasionally chlamydia is associated with a condition called Reiter Syndrome where there is a reaction to the infection, which affects the whole body," says Dr Rudolph. "This can cause joint swelling, and can affect the eyes and urethra."
If chlamydia is contracted during oral or anal sex, it can result in complications that can affect both men and women. "You can experience a sore throat, painful swallowing, coughing and a fever," explains Rudolph. "In the anus, it usually causes a discharge and can cause bleeding and painful sex."
"Pelvic inflammatory disease and testes infections can be treated with antibiotic treatment and occasionally surgery if abscesses have formed. The infertility can sometimes be reversed, but only with very specialised surgery of the fallopian tubes," counsels Dr Rudolph. "Reiter Syndrome is treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and resolves by itself over time."
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