Chlamydia testing, symptoms, and treatment

With a name derived from the Greek word for "cloak," chlamydia is referred to as the "silent epidemic" because it yields no symptoms in up to 50 percent of infected men and up to 75 percent of infected women. Just because a person shows no symptoms, however, does not mean the infection is not doing damage. Chlamydia has a wide range of short- and long-term consequences, including reproductive problems, infertility, eye infections (conjunctivitis), and even blindness.

Fortunately, chlamydia can be detected through relatively simple screening processes and treated with antibiotics.

What Is Chlamydia?

Chlamydia is an infection caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is usually transmitted through sexual activity. In fact, chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs) in the world.

Although usually genital in nature, chlamydia can also infect the eye. In this case, it is called trachoma, is spread largely through sharing towels, washcloths, pillowcases, and other such objects with infected individuals, and can lead to blindness if untreated.

How Does Chlamydia Screening Work?

Because chlamydia is often asymptomatic, and because it can have dire consequences if left untreated, doctors recommend that sexually active women have yearly chlamydia tests up to age 25, and even after that if they are at risk (that is, if they have multiple sexual partners or whenever they have a new sexual partner). Men, too, may wish to undergo screening, especially if they have new or multiple partners.

Chlamydia testing is generally done in a laboratory using samples collected by a medical professional. Common procedures are antibody tests, DNA probe tests, or cell cultures, usually conducted on samples swabbed from infected areas. Urine samples may also be used.

What Are Chlamydia Symptoms?

When chlamydia symptoms do appear, they most often take the form of painful urination and abnormal, odorous discharge. Men may also experience tenderness and swelling of the testicles, and women may experience pain during intercourse and/or bleeding between periods.

Women should also be on the lookout for symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease, which include pain in the lower abdomen, interruption or irregularity of the menstrual cycle, nausea, lack of appetite, fever, and chills.

What Are Chlamydia Treatments?

As a bacterial infection, chlamydia can usually be treated with a course of antibiotics. Infected persons should refrain from sexual intercourse during the treatment, as they could still pass the infection to partners.

All sexual partners of the infected individual should be tested for chlamydia, as well as other STDs that can occur in conjunction, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. There is no immunity to the disease, so sex with an untreated partner can result in re-infection.

Of course, prevention is the best option when it comes to any STD. Practicing abstinence, monogamy, and/or safe sex can protect you from contracting a chlamydia infection.