Chlamydia Infection in Women – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Chlamydia is a bacterial sexually transmitted infection which is very common in both women and men. One of the reasons for its prevalence is that it is largely asymptomatic – about three-quarter of women and half of men with a chlamydia infection show no signs and symptoms. It is therefore easily transmitted by the carrier to the unsuspecting partner. While it may affect both genders, chlamydia is more prevalent in women. Chlamydia infection is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection in the United States and it is believed that the incidence is actually much higher but those infected are unaware of it.

Causes of Chlamydia in Women

Chlamydia is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis which can be transmitted through vaginal, oral or anal intercourse. As is the case with other common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and syphilis, chlamydia can be passed from the mother to the infant during delivery (vaginal birth). The risk factors are also largely the same as other STIs – multiple sex partners, unprotected sex (without condoms) and having sex from an early age. If both partners are not treated, a person may be at risk of contracting the infection again despite receiving treatment. The risk factors should also raise the concern about HIV infection.

Signs and Symptoms in Women

Pain and discharge are the two main features of a chlamydia infection. The pain is typically located in the lower abdomen with painful urination and pain during intercourse. There may be itching and burning around the vagina.  There is an abnormal vaginal discharge that may have a foul odor. Fever may be present and women may report intermenstrual bleeding (bleed between periods). These symptoms if present tend to start a week or more after contracting the infection. The clinical presentation is not specific for chlamydia and it is important to exclude other conditions like a urinary tract infection, pelvic inflammatory disease and other sexually transmitted infections.In newborns who contract chlamydia from the mother during delivery, there may be eye and even lung infections.

Diagnosis of Chlamydia

A sample of the mucus on the cervix and urine can both be used for testing for chlamydia. Simultaneous HIV testing is always recommended for early diagnosis. Testing for chlamydia should be repeated after treatment. Partners should also be tested for chlamydia even if asymptomatic to curb the vicious cycle of re-infection.

Treatment of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is a bacterial infection and can therefore be treated with antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics like azithromycin can be used a single dose while other antibiotics for chlamydia like doxycycline need to be used daily for a week. The treatment could be continued for 10 to 14 days. In very rare cases the chlamydia infection may be so severe that hospitalization with the administration of IV antibiotics are necessary. Treatment for chlamydia is very effective but the infection can recur if exposed to an infected partner. It is therefore important for sexual partners to be treated as well even if asymptomatic.

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