Chlamydia: What Doctors Know and What They’re Learning About This Common STD

Chlamydia: What Doctors Know and What They’re Learning About This Common STD

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated there were over 1.7 million new cases of chlamydia reported in the country, making it the most common STD in the nation.

The problem with chlamydia is that most people don’t immediately know they’ve been infected with the disease. It is asymptomatic in the beginning – a reason many cases stay untreated for so long.

However, untreated chlamydia can cause numerous health complications such as infections, infertility and prostate issues.

Chlamydia is caused by the chlamydia bacteria (yes, the same name) and is spread via anal, vaginal or oral sex. People are at risk for the disease when they don’t practice safe sex or have sex with more than one partner at a time. If you’ve had an STD before, you increase your chances of being infected with chlamydia. Pregnant women can infect their babies at birth with chlamydia, which can cause several health issues in the baby.

Can Chlamydia Be Cured?

The great thing about chlamydia, unlike so many other infections, is that it is curable, but only if the prescription is taken as directed by a doctor. Like other STDs, it’s imperative to begin treatment right after getting the disease. This ensures the drug will work better and you won’t suffer from any complications.

Most chlamydia symptoms begin three weeks after the initial infection. Typical symptoms of this disease are pain during sex or urination or continuous stomach pains. Both genders could have genital discharge as well as swelling and burning in that area. Women with a chlamydia infection may also have painful periods and bleeding when it’s not their period.

The moment you notice any of the above symptoms, you need to seek the assistance of a doctor. While some people may have no symptoms at all with the infection until it’s advanced, most do. Be sure to get regularly tested to decrease the chance of suffering from complications of the disease. It’s best both sexually active men and woman to get tested once a year for chlamydia.

What Is The Treatment For Chlamydia?

If you are diagnosed with a chlamydia infection, your doctor will give you antibiotics to cure it (mind you, you need to take it as prescribed for the drug to be effective). Your doctor may give you one gram of azithromycin or 100 milligrams of doxycycline. While most people can take these drugs, there are other alternatives just in case you can’t. They include levofloxacin, erythromycin and ofloxacin.

A chlamydia infection while pregnant often results in a different type of treatment. Many standard medications such as doxycycline are not considered safe to be used by pregnant women, as they could hurt the baby, especially in the later trimesters. Instead, doctors may prescribe amoxicillin, azithromycin or erythromycin to treat the disease.

There are some side effects, but they are rare – stomach pain, rashes, nausea, diarrhea. No side effects include hurting the baby.

Children and HIV-positive patients also with chlamydia can use antibiotics to treat the disease. While the infection can be cured, the antibiotics will not help with the complications that resulted from the lack of prompt treatment.

What’s The Standard Chlamydia Treatment?

Chlamydia treatments can last anywhere from one to seven days. How long treatment lasts though is dependent on two things:

  1. Your immune system and how well it can fight off the infection
  2. What type of medication you are prescribed

Azithromycin is designed to use for a short time, usually a day. The one gram dose is taken in two or four tablets or is given to you by your doctor in the office. This will help to avoid any potential side effects, which is important for children, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system.

Other chlamydia antibiotics are prescribed for seven days. Levofloxacin is taken once a day for seven days; doxycycline and ofloxacin are taken two times a day, and erythromycin is taken four times a day.

For the best results, the medications should be taken as directed for the entire time. When done so, the symptoms should be gone by the time you are done with the treatment. Your doctor will advise you to come in for a checkup in three months to be retested for chlamydia. If you notice you still have symptoms of the disease after you take the antibiotics, talk with your doctor about getting another treatment.

Can A Person Become Re-Infected With The Chlamydia Bacteria

It is quite possible to become re-infected with the chlamydia bacteria after treatment is over. This happens for several reasons:

  • You failed to take the medication as your doctor prescribed you
  • You continue to have unsafe sex
  • Your partner has an undiagnosed infection
  • You use an object that has the chlamydia bacteria on it because it wasn’t cleaned properly

A 2000 study found that 30 percent of genital chlamydia infections are reinfections. In the past, doctors felt that the recurring infections were either due to ineffective treatments or the re-exposure of the chlamydia bacteria. A newly released study found another potential reason as well. The chlamydia bacteria can now hide in the gut and can rear its ugly head every now and then (similar to the herpes simplex virus).

Doctors suggest that people get tested every two months after a treatment to determine if the infection is entirely gone.

What You Have To Keep In Mind About Chlamydia

Although chlamydia is very common, you can still protect yourself from getting the disease. And, if you do have it, it can be cured. Protect yourself by using protection for vaginal, anal and oral sex. Do not have more than one partner or share objects during the sex act. Get regularly tested for STDs if you are sexually active, as this will help to detect the infection early and get prompt treatment.

If you have had a chlamydia infection, talk with your doctor to get a follow-up test. The recurrence rates of STDs is very high, but a follow-up test can be done to ensure the treatment was successful and you are bacteria-free.

Mark Riegel, MD

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