The Long-Term Consequences of Untreated Chlamydia

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Early chlamydia infections frequently do not cause any symptoms. That doesn't mean that untreated chlamydia is not affecting your health. The long term effects of chlamydia can be serious if it's left untreated. That's true for both men and women. That's also why screening is so important. It's easy for chlamydia to go undetected based on symptoms alone. That's why regular STD screening should be part of medical exams for anyone at risk of an STD.

Who does that describe? Pretty much everyone. 

Long Term Effects of Chlamydia for Women - Outside of Pregnancy

For women, one of the most serious consequence of chlamydia is pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. PID occurs when a bacterial infection, such as an untreated chlamydia infection, moves into the upper reproductive tract. The uterus, fallopian tubes, and surrounding areas may become swollen, scarred, or filled with pus.  PID can sometimes be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Other times surgery is necessary to clear out the consequences of the ascending infection. Scar tissue might need to be removed. Sometimes, the infection also needs to be surgically drained. 

Pelvic inflammatory disease is the leading causes of preventable infertility in the United States. Each episode of PID increases a woman’s risk of becoming infertile. It is also associated with: ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus), chronic pelvic pain, and even death.

Fortunately, the most serious complications of PID are largely preventable. However, in order to prevent them, women need to be screened regularly for chlamydia and other bacterial infections. Prompt treatment of chlamydia and other STDs can prevent PID from ever occurring. Prompt treatment of PID can reduce the risk of long term consequences.

 

Consequences of Untreated Chlamydia for Pregnant Women

Many sexually transmitted diseases can affect the health of a pregnant woman and her fetus. Untreated chlamydia is one of those STDs. If a woman with untreated chlamydia becomes pregnant, it can affect the health of her baby. Chlamydia is associated with pre-term birth. Pre-term birth is when a baby is born before it is fully developed. This can have long-term health consequences for the infant. Potential complications of preterm birth include:

Chlamydia infection during pregnancy is also associated with infant eye infections and pneumonia. Worldwide, chlamydia eye infections are one of the leading causes of preventable blindness. These eye infections are fortunately rare in the United States due to widespread screening  and treatment during pregnancy. Without treatment, one third to half of babies born to infected mothers would develop eye disease. Preventing chlamydia eye disease, also known as trachoma, is one of the reasons it is so important to screen pregnant women for chlamydia. Up to a third of infants exposed to chlamydia could develop eye infections if not appropriately screened and treated. 

Long Term Effects of Chlamydia for Men

Untreated chlamydia infections in men are also problematic.

The long term effects of chlamydia in men include increased risk of a condition called epididymitis. Epididymitis is an infection of the tubes where sperm mature in the testicles. With epididymitis, men may experience atrophy, or shrinking, of the infected testicle. They may also get abscesses, or pus-filled lesions, in their scrotum. Finally, just as in women,untreated chlamydia in men can lead to infertility.

In men, untreated chlamydia also carries a small risk of a condition known as reactive arthritis, or Reiter syndrome. This usually occurs alongside urethritis (infection of the urethra) and inflammation of the eyes.

Chlamydia can cause eye infections in adults as well as children. Fortunately, due to hygiene practices, chlamydia eye infections in adults are relatively uncommon in the United States.  

A Word from Verywell

With screening and treatment, there are few long term effects of chlamydia. However, screening and treatment are critical. That's why everyone who is sexually active outside of a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship should consider chlamydia and other STD screening at least annually. Not only can screening and treatment prevent the direct effects of untreated chlamydia, it can also prevent indirect effects. For example, a chlamydia infection may increase the risk of both acquiring and transmitting HIV to a sexual partner. 

Sources:

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Goldschmidt P. Social Sciences for the Prevention of Blindness. Trop Med Health. 2015 Jun;43(2):141-8. doi: 10.2149/tmh.2014-32.

Ljubin-Sternak S, Meštrović T. Chlamydia trachomatis and Genital Mycoplasmas: Pathogens with an Impact on Human Reproductive Health. J Pathog. 2014;2014:183167. doi: 10.1155/2014/183167.

Mishori R, McClaskey EL, WinklerPrins VJ. Chlamydia trachomatis infections: screening, diagnosis, and management. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Dec 15;86(12):1127-32.

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