By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Chlamydia infection is one of the commonest sexually transmitted infections worldwide that is spread via vaginal fluid and semen of the infected person to her or his healthy sexual partner due to unprotected intercourse.
In most cases the infected person may not develop any symptoms of the infection or the infection may pass off in an unremarkable course with fever, pain, and discharge from the genitals (vagina in women and tip of the penis in men).
This means that nearly half of the individuals with the infection may not be aware of passing on the infection to their partners.
Despite the initial mild course of the disease, in some individuals, chlamydial infections can lead to serious health conditions. Some of the complications of chlamydia infections include:
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Untreated infections may travel up into the womb and fallopian tubes and lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The infection may travel up the uterus to cause endometritis and to the tubes to cause salpingitis.
PID carries serious consequences in itself. It can be silent leading to abdominal and lower back pain and with time the inflammation of the reproductive tissues can lead to permanent damage and infertility.
In fact one of the commonest causes of infertility in women worldwide is due to pelvic inflammatory disease. PID may also lead to a greater risk of ectopic pregnancy wherein the fertilized ovum instead of implanting on the inner walls of the womb gets implanted elsewhere.
One of the commonest sites of ectopic pregnancy is within the fallopian tube. As the fetus begins to grow in the narrow tube it may burst leading to heavy internal bleeding and even death.
Chlamydia and pregnancy
Pregnant women with untreated Chlamydia can pass on the infection to their babies as they pass the birth canal. This can lead to eye infection, conjunctivitis and trachoma in the baby and also a serious for of pneumonia. Both of these conditions may be severely damaging to the baby.
In addition mothers with Chlamydia tend to be at a higher risk of preterm delivery and going into premature labour.
Inflammation of the testes
Among men the infection can sometimes spread up the reproductive tract and cause infection and inflammation of the testes (orchitis) and epididymis (epididymitis). Both of these conditions may lead to pain, fever, and swelling. In rare cases it may also cause male infertility.
Increased risk of HIV
Untreated chlamydia may increase a person’s risks of acquiring or transmitting HIV.
Some patients may develop joint pain and arthritis due to Chlamydia infection. This is cause sexually acquired reactive arthritis or SARA.
Some patients may develop perihepatitis or Fitz-Hugh-Curtis syndrome or chronic pelvic pain and proctitis or rectal infection.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2014