If chlamydia is not treated, it can sometimes spread and cause long-term problems.
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Complications in women
In women, chlamydia can spread to the womb (uterus), ovaries or the fallopian tubes. This can cause a condition called pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Women may also develop an inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis), or an infection in the Bartholin's glands near the vaginal opening. Very rarely women can develop a reactive arthritis.
Chlamydia is one of the main causes of PID in women. PID is an infection of the womb (uterus), ovaries and fallopian tubes. It can cause infertility, persistent (chronic) pelvic pain and it increases the risk of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. PID can be treated with antibiotics, and the risk of infertility is reduced if PID is treated early.
Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis)
Chlamydia can cause inflammation of the cervix (the neck of the womb), known as cervicitis. Cervicitis often causes no symptoms, but if you do get symptoms these may include:
- bleeding during or after sex
- bleeding between periods
- discomfort in your lower abdomen
pain during sex
Blocked fallopian tubes
Chlamydia can spread to cause inflammation in the fallopian tubes (known as salpingitis). This can make it difficult for an egg to travel from the ovary to the womb and can make becoming pregnant more difficult. Find out more about conception and getting pregnant.
Even if a fallopian tube is only partially blocked, this will increase the risk of ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, usually in a fallopian tube). Blocked fallopian tubes can sometimes be treated with surgery.
Swollen Bartholin's glands (Bartholinitis)
The glands that produce a woman's lubricating mucus during sex are known as the Bartholin's glands. They sit on either side of the vaginal opening. Chlamydia can cause the glands to become blocked and infected, leading to a Bartholin's cyst.
The cyst is usually painless, but if it becomes infected it can lead to an abscess. An abscess is usually red, very tender, painful to touch, and can cause a fever. An infected abscess needs to be treated with antibiotics. Very occasionally an operation is needed to drain the abscess.
Complications in men
Urethritis is inflammation of the urethra (urine tube) that runs along the underside of the penis. Symptoms include:
- a white cloudy discharge from the tip of the penis
- pain or a burning sensation when you urinate
- the urge to urinate often
- irritation and soreness around the tip of the penis
There are many causes of urethritis but chlamydia infection is the most common. If you have urethritis and the cause is not known then this is called a "non-specific urethritis" (NSU). NSU is often treated with the same antibiotics as chlamydia.
The main symptoms of epididymitis are swelling and tenderness in the epididymis. The epididymis is part of a man's reproductive system and carries sperm from the testicle. If the testicles are affected it is called epididymo-orchitis.
A chlamydia infection in the epididymis can cause inflammation, swelling and tenderness inside the scrotum (ball sack). A few men will notice that the whole of the scrotum is red and tender. Infection can lead to a build-up of fluid in the affected area, or even an abscess. If left untreated, epididymitis can sometimes lead to infertility.
Chlamydia can cause a reactive arthritis (inflammation of the joints). In some people the arthritis develops as part of a syndrome and they also develop inflammation of the urethra (urethritis) and the eyes (conjunctivitis).
Reactive arthritis is more likely to occur in men than women. Symptoms usually get better in 3-12 months although they can return after this. Symptoms can usually be controlled by painkillers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Some people will need to see a joint specialist if their symptoms are severe.
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