In 2020, WHO estimated 129 million cases of Chlamydia and 89 million cases of Gonorrhoea across the globe.1 These bacterial sexually transmitted infections (STIs) spread at a swift pace and can have dire consequences for sexually active men and women if they aren’t careful. Did you know? Over a million STIs are acquired every single day.1 STIs spread from one person to another through unprotected sexual contact and can have a profound impact on one's reproductive health.2 

Some of these infections, like Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea, turn out to be completely curable with a timely STI test and prompt treatment.3 Most cases of bacterial STIs are asymptomatic, however, some patients may experience symptoms like abnormal discharge from their vagina or penis or pain while urinating. 

Let’s understand the symptoms of Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea to make informed decisions about STI testing at the right time. 

An Overview Of Chlamydia

Chlamydia is one of the most common bacterial STIs. It is caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis (C. trachomatis).4 It is referred to as a silent infection as several cases turn out to be asymptomatic or the symptoms appear a few weeks after the infection.4 Regular screening via an STI test seems to be the lifesaver in such cases.

Common Symptoms:5

  • Dysuria (a burning sensation while urinating)
  • Abnormal discharge from the penis, vagina, or anus
  • Women may experience pain in the stomach, bleeding after sexual intercourse, or bleeding between their periods
  • Men can experience unusual pain and swelling in one or both testicles

All You Need To Know About Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is also a bacterial STI caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.6 This infection is known to infect the membrane in the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tube in women and the urethra in both genders.6 This infection is even more dangerous as it can also affect the eyes, mouth, throat, and rectum.6

Approximately half the infected female and one in ten infected male patients do not experience any symptoms.7 This warrants a periodic STI test to make sure that you are in the clear.

Common Symptoms:7

  • Dysuria (a burning sensation while urinating)
  • Thick white, yellow, or greenish discharge from the vagina or penis
  • Bleeding between periods in women
  • Testicular or scrotal pain in men6

What Happens If You Ignore The Symptoms For Long?

The most obvious consequence of ignoring the symptoms and avoiding any treatment is spreading this painful infection to your sexual partners. Apart from that, these conditions make you more vulnerable to an HIV infection.8 In case the condition remains asymptomatic and undiagnosed, the infection can be easily passed on to your child during pregnancy. This can lead to problems like pneumonia (infection in the lungs) or eye infection in newborns.9

You can take an STI test regularly to prevent the following reproductive health conditions:

1. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease can be defined as an infection in a woman’s reproductive organs. The spread of the STI from the vagina to the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes results in PID.10 Around 10-15% of women with chlamydia or gonorrhoea are prone to developing this disease.11

PID leads to the formation of thick and fibrous tissues in the fallopian tube and ovaries, resulting in chronic pelvic pain in one-third of women.11 If left untreated, patients experience pain during intercourse or ovulation for months or even years to come.10

In addition, PID leads to the formation of pockets of pus or infected fluid in the reproductive tract called a tubo-ovarian abscess (TOA) which can prove to be life-threatening in the long run.10 These symptoms become an obstacle while conceiving or carrying a child and can result in infertility.10

2. Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy is a condition where an early embryo is implanted outside the uterus, which is the usual site of implantation.12 Chlamydia is known to be a major risk factor that causes such cases.13

If you do not get an STI test and fail to treat the infection, it can result in blockage or damage to the fallopian tube. This might obstruct the embryo's path to the uterus and hinder the conception of the child in the womb. As a result, the embryo develops in the tube and eventually ruptures the fallopian tube causing a massive life-threatening bleed.12

3. Epididymitis

In males, the epididymis is a tubular structure at the back of the testicles where the sperms mature. The inflammation of the epididymis is referred to as epididymitis.14 Men often experience symptoms like pain and swelling at the back of their testicles. Most cases report untreated bacterial STIs like chlamydia or gonorrhoea as the root cause of this condition.15

If left untreated it can lead to complications like chronic inflammation and the formation of pus. Epididymitis can also result in permanent damage to the testicles and epididymis, causing infertility in men.15

4. Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis can be defined as arthritis acquired due to prolonged infection.16 It is a rare consequence but can be observed when symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhoea are ignored for a long time.17

You can observe inflammation in the joints which is accompanied by pain and redness around the joints.18 As the symptoms can be mild or severe depending on your sexually transmitted infection, it is important to get an STI test and seek treatment before the escalation of the disease.

In Conclusion

STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhoea can be treated effectively upon early detection. Some of the preventative measures include taking an STI test every year if you are sexually active and below the age of 25 (according to the CDC), limiting the number of sex partners, and using a condom during sexual intercourse.19,20 Keeping these measures in mind will help you stay safe from STIs and on top of your sexual health.

References

  1. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/sexually-transmitted-infections-(stis) 
  2. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/s/sexually-transmitted-infections 
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/feature-stories/detail/four-curable-sexually-transmitted-infections---all-you-need-to-know 
  4. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4023-chlamydia 
  5. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/chlamydia/ 
  6. https://www.cdc.gov/std/gonorrhea/stdfact-gonorrhea-detailed.htm 
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gonorrhoea/ 
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/stdfact-std-hiv.htm 
  9. https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/stis-pregnancy-and-breastfeeding 
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499959/ 
  12. https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/ectopic-pregnancy-booklet/ 
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6946389/ 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430814/ 
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430814/ 
  16. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/r/reactive-arthritis-reiters-syndrome.html 
  17. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/1999/0801/p507.html 
  18. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/reactive-arthritis/ 
  19. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm 
  20. https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm