Chlamydia and gonorrhea are two of the most widespread STDs in the US. If they are caught early on, they are easily treated. But if they progress, they can cause some serious problems. This is why knowledge is key, and we are here to raise awareness and hopefully prevent you from suffering from these infections and their complications.

Cause of chlamydia

This infection is caused by a microorganism called Chlamydia trachomatis, a bacteria too small to be seen by the naked eye. All you need for it to transmit from person to person is sexual contact, be it either oral, vaginal or anal sex. Ejaculation is not necessary for an infection to occur. We should also immediately bust the myth that you can get chlamydia or any similar STD from using dirty, public toilets. Chlamydia needs a living, warm and moist environment to thrive and cannot survive outside in the air for more than a few seconds. Therefore, this is impossible.

Symptoms

This can be a complicated disease because the way it manifests in patients varies a lot. Some people may be completely asymptomatic, while others have some symptoms that are not very specific.

In women

The most common place of infection is the cervix. Only 50 percent of women actually experience symptoms, usually vaginal discharge, abnormal vaginal bleeding and pain in the abdomen. Some female patients can experience pain during sexual intercourse. The second most common place of infection is the urethra, which is why some women mistake chlamydia for an urinary tract infection (UTI). They encounter problems with going to the bathroom, with the need to pee being more frequent  and also experiencing a burning, or painful  sensation during the act.

If left untreated, it can lead to some serious complications like PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) and scarring of the Fallopian tubes. It is important for women who are trying to get pregnant to get tested because this could lead to fertility problems, miscarriages and a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, the mother can give it to the baby during labour. The eyes are particularly susceptible. Luckily, this can be treated and it is a very rare occurrence because expectant mothers are routinely tested.

In men

Less than half of men with chlamydia are asymptomatic. But men, like women, encounter symptoms similar to an UTI: pain when urinating and appearance of discharge from the penis. In a very small number of cases, instead of the urethra, chlamydia infects the epididymis, a tube that keeps the sperm and transports it from the testicles. This causes pain, sensitivity and inflammation of the scrotum, sometimes even affecting the whole penis itself. The prostate is another possible place of chlamydia infection in men.

As we mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be transmitted through vaginal sex, but through oral and anal sex too. This puts homosexual men at a higher risk of developing n anal infection and experiencing uncomfortable symptoms like pain, a constant need to go to the bathroom and constipation.

Complications that are more frequent in men than in women (but still rare) include infection of the lymph nodes and arthritis.

Diagnosis and treatment

Chlamydia is easily diagnosed with a routine screening test. These tests can be performed by a doctor, or sometimes even by patients themselves (vaginal self swabs). Women under the age of 25 should have yearly screening tests done.

Since chlamydia is a bacterial infection, it can be easily treated with antibiotics. It is advisable to inform your current and former partners of your condition so they can get tested as well. Also important is refrain from all sexual activity while you are undergoing treatment, to prevent your partner from transmitting it to you again if he is infected too.

Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is the second most prevalent STD in the US. Sometimes known as the clap, it can be mistaken for a chlamydia infection due to their similar manifestations and routes of transmission.

Cause

Neisseria gonorrhoeae is the source of this disease and it is spread the same way chlamydia does: through all forms of sex. Young people (14-25) have the highest risk of infection, because they tend to change partners a lot and may not yet practice 100% safe sex. While chlamydia is more common in women, gonorrhea is more prevalent among men in the US.

Symptoms

This STD usually shows only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. When they do occur, it’s usually within the first month after infection. They are slightly different for women and men, but they include:

In men

  • A painful or burning sensation when you pee
  • Yellow discharge from the penis
  • Swollen or painful testicles

In women

  • Burning sensation when you pee
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during sex

Symptoms of anal infection (in both men and women) can be:

  • Itchiness
  • Yellow discharge
  • Bleeding from the rectum

A chronic sore throat can also be a sign of gonorrhea.

If it is asymptomatic and/or left untreated, complications may arise, similar to the ones chlamydia patients experience. PID in women and epididymitis in men can lead to infertility. If babies get it from their mother during childbirth, they can end up blind. Very rarely, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea can find its way to the bloodstream and infect other tissues like the joints, the heart and the brain, or it can even cause sepsis.

Diagnosis and treatment

Yearly screening tests are recommended for younger men and women, since they are the ones mostly affected. Your doctor may take an urine sample or a swab of the area he thinks may be infected (usually vagina/cervix or penis). Discreet self test kits can also be found on the market.

Luckily, the patients do not have to worry even if they are diagnosed, because this infection is easily treated with the right antibiotics. It is important that you follow you doctor’s instructions and abstain from sex while you are being treated to prevent passing it back and forth with your partner.

Conclusion

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are easily confused due to their similar symptoms, the way of transmission and complications. Some patients may actually have both of these STDs at the same time. While they are easily treated with antibiotics, it is very important to differentiate them and treat them with a specific type of medicine. Especially gonorrhea infections are rapidly becoming more and more resistant to many different types of antibiotics. If this trend is to continue, some scientists fear that it could develop into the next so called ‘superbug’. Fertility problems can be an unfortunate consequence of both of these infections. Women whose chlamydia progresses into PID have a higher prevalence of infertility than those with PID and gonorrhea. If you have been infected with either of these bacteria, you have a higher risk of HIV/AIDS or even cervical cancer. It is important to remember that just because you had it once does not mean you can’t get it again. The only way to prevent this is to practice safe sex! Condoms are the only contraceptive method that protects from STDs!

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763711/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4913006/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5354567/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5354566/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20351774

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chlamydia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355349