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Chlamydia: An Overview

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Updated May 30, 2014

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Chlamydia is the most common curable sexually transmitted disease, and it is caused by the obligate intracellular parasite Chlamydia trachomatis. Hundreds of thousands of new cases are reported every year, but that probably represents less than half of all infections. This is because half of all chlamydia cases in men, and three quarters of chlamydia cases in women, have no symptoms. Scientists estimate that in the U.S. alone there are 3-4 million new cases a year

For Men:

The primary infection site for chlamydia in men is the urethra, the tube inside the penis that carries urine and sperm. Infection of the urethra is known as urethritis. Chlamydia symptoms in men may include:

  • burning pain on urination
  • discharge from the opening of the penis (the urethra)
  • pain in the testicles
  • pain in, or discharge from, the rectum

For Women:

The primary infection site for chlamydia in women is the cervix, the opening that connects the vagina to the uterus, or womb. Infection of the cervix is known as cervicitis. Chlamydia Symptoms in women may include:

  • Vaginal irritation
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Pain in, or discharge from, the rectum
  • Nondescript pain in the lower abdomen
  • Severe pelvic pain from an infection that has ascended from the cervix into the upper reproductive tract.

For Everyone:

The symptoms described above, however, could also indicate other infections. If you have any sign of discharge from your genitalia, or unexplained irritation, you should speak to the health provider of your choice for chlamydia testing.

If you are uncomfortable seeing your regular doctor about a possible STD diagnosis, many regional areas have public STD clinics. Planned Parenthood is also a good resource for STD treatment and diagnosis. Both government run clinics and Planned Parenthood scale treatment prices to your income, so money should not be an issue in seeking treatment.

Because so many people with chlamydia have no symptoms, it is important to ask your doctor to screen you for the disease at your annual visit if there is any chance you might have been exposed. If you have had unprotected sex with a partner who is infected with, or has not been tested for, chlamydia you should consider yourself at risk for disease.

Before entering into a new sexual relationship, or starting to have unprotected sex in your current relationship, many sex educators recommend that both you and your partner be screened for chlamydia and other common STDs. When in doubt, use condoms, which have been shown to be effective in preventing the spread of chlamydia.

Next: Diagnosis and Treatment

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