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Condition Info > C > Chlamydia
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In this condition factsheet:

The Facts on Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in North America, affecting both men and women, although women report the disease more often than men.

The infection is named after the bacterium that causes it, Chlamydia trachomatis. Most women and many men who are infected with the bacteria have no symptoms and therefore don't know they have chlamydia.

Chlamydia is easily treated, but it can sometimes lead to serious complications if it isn't caught early enough. It is estimated that up to 40% of untreated women will develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can be very painful. The risk of preterm delivery, ectopic pregnancy, or infertility also increases with an untreated chlamydia infection.

Causes of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is spread during sexual contact and is highly infectious. It can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

Newborn babies can get infected if their mothers have chlamydia. Nearly two-thirds of infants born vaginally (i.e., not by caesarean) to infected mothers will contract chlamydia during delivery. In newborns, chlamydia infections appear as eye problems or respiratory problems rather than the typical genital infections seen in adults.

Symptoms and Complications of Chlamydia

People with chlamydia don't always have symptoms. About 80% of women and 50% of men won't show signs of infection. If symptoms start, they will show up within 1 to 3 weeks after exposure.

In men, chlamydia usually starts in the urethra. Symptoms often come and go, or might only be noticed during the first urination of the day. These include:

  • painful burning on urination
  • redness, swelling, burning, itching around the opening of the penis
  • discharge from the penis, usually milky-white, grey, or yellow in colour
  • scrotal pain
  • Reiter's syndrome, a type of arthritis that can damage the joints and eyes
  • inflammation of the coiled tube (epididymis) at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm. this is called epididymitis
  • prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate
  • infertility, if the infection spreads from the urethra to the testicles

Chlamydia can cause a number of complications in both men and women, including:

  • conjunctivitis (pinkeye)
  • pharyngitis (sore throat)
  • genital lymphogranuloma, which produces genital ulcers and swollen glands
  • Reiter’s syndrome, a type of reactive arthritis

In women, chlamydia usually begins on the cervix. While symptoms are rare in women, they can include:

  • a yellowish vaginal discharge that might have a foul odour
  • painful burning during urination
  • bleeding between periods and after intercourse
  • pain during intercourse
  • pain in the lower abdomen

Women can also develop a number of serious complications from a chlamydia infection. If left untreated, it can cause:

  • Reiter’s syndrome, a type of reactive arthritis
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a serious condition that can permanently damage the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries (this can cause infertility and chronic pain)
  • inflammation of the liver resulting in pain on the right side

In both women and men, chlamydia can infect the rectum. This causes:

  • rectal itching and bleeding
  • pain during defecation
  • mucus-like discharge

If the eyes are infected by chlamydia (conjunctivitis), symptoms are:

  • redness, itching, and discharge from the eyes
  • swollen eyelids

In infants with chlamydia, eye infections occur in about 20% to 50% of babies born to infected mothers, and the infection usually occurs within 2 weeks of delivery. If the infection isn't treated in time, it can lead to scarring of the cornea and permanent damage to vision. About 5% to 30% of babies born to infected mothers will get pneumonia, usually within 2 to 12 weeks after delivery. The chlamydial pneumonia can cause anything from mild symptoms to breathing problems that include a repetitive cough.



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