An infection of the genital tract in women that is usually symptomless
- Can affect sexually active women of any age
- Affects women. Men can carry the infection
- Unprotected sex with multiple partners is a risk factor
- Genetics is not a significant factor
The bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the UK, with about 123,000 new cases in 2008. In women, the most common site of infection is the cervix, and the bacterium can cause serious inflammation of the reproductive organs. In men, chlamydial infection is the most common cause of nongonococcal urethritis. A baby exposed to chlamydial infection during delivery may develop conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane covering the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids, and lung infections such as pneumonia.
What are the symptoms?
Most women are symptom-free, but if symptoms do occur, they may include:
Abnormal vaginal discharge.
Bleeding between periods or after sex.
Frequent urge to pass urine.
Pain in the lower abdomen.
Pain on deep penetration during sex.
Left untreated, chlamydial infection can spread from the cervix to the fallopian tubes (see Pelvic inflammatory disease), and is a common cause of infertility in women. The infection sometimes triggers a form of arthritis (see Reactive arthritis).
What might be done?
Chlamydial infection may not be suspected until symptoms develop or a partner is tested for an STI. It may also be suspected during investigations for infertility, which can be a complication of untreated infection. For this reason, screening is important for sexually active women at high risk, including those who have been treated previously for an STI or who have multiple partners.
If you think that you or your partner has a chlamydial infection, you should go to a clinic that specializes in STIs or consult your doctor. In women, diagnosis is confirmed by a urine test or by taking a swab from the cervix or vagina. Treatment is with antibiotics. Even if symptom-free, partners should also be tested and, if necessary, treated.
Can it be prevented?
You can reduce your risk of infection by following safe sex measures (see Preventing STIs). If you and/or your partner is infected, you should abstain from sexual contact until treatment has been completed.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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