Chlamydia infections in women
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease. This article discusses chlamydia infections in women.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Chlamydia is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis.
Different strains of chlamydia cause genital, eye, lymph node, and respiratory infections.
A baby born to a woman with a chlamydia infection of the cervix may develop eye or lung infections.
Chlamydia is transmitted through sexual activity. Sexually active individuals and individuals with multiple partners are at highest risk for chlamydia infections.
Note: Some women with chlamydia have no symptoms at all. Only some women will have symptoms. Therefore, screening sexually active women for chlamydia is necessary to diagnose and treat the condition in women who do not have symptoms.
Signs and tests
Diagnosing a chlamydia infection in a woman involves taking a sample of cervical secretions and sending it to a lab for an endocervical culture or a similar test called PCR.
Chlamydia infection can be diagnosed with a urine test.
Endocervical culture for gonorrhea may also be done.
Chlamydia can be treated with a variety of antibiotics, including azithromycin, tetracyclines, quinolones, and erythromycin. Erythromycin and azithromycin are safe in pregnant women.
Both sexual partners must be treated to prevent passing the infection back and forth between them, even though both may not have symptoms.
Since gonorrhea often occurs along with chlamydia, treatment for gonorrhea is often given at the same time.
Antibiotic treatment is usually successful. Reinfection may occur if you do not take your medicine as directed, or if your sexual partner is not treated.
Chlamydia infections in women may lead to inflammation of the cervix.
An untreated chlamydia infection may spread to the uterus or the fallopian tubes, causing salpingitis or pelvic inflammatory disease. These conditions can lead to infertility and increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
If a women has chlamydia while pregnant, it can lead to an infection in the uterus after delivery (late postpartum endometritis). In addition, the infant may develop chlamydia-related conjunctivitis (eye infection) and pneumonia.
Calling your health care provider
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms of chlamydia occur.
All sexually active women up to age 25 should be screened yearly for chlamydia. All women with new sexual partners or multiple partners should also be screened.
A mutually monogamous sexual relationship with an uninfected partner is one way to avoid this infection. The proper use of condoms during intercourse usually prevents infection.
Stamm WE, Batteiger BE. Chlamydiatrachomatis (trachoma, perinatal infections, lymphogranuloma venereum, and other genital infections). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 180.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for chlamydial infection: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147:128-134.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Workowski KA, Berman SM. Diseases characterized by urethritis and cervicitis. Sexually transmitted diseases treatment guidelines MMWR. 2006;55:35-49.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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