My Chlamydia Didn’t Go Away. Now What?
When I woke up one September morning with an uncomfortable itching and burning that I could only describe as a "dirty feeling," I immediately dreaded the trip to my OB for an early well-woman exam. I had an idea of what she would say and how I should respond to sound like I was somehow too good to have ended up with an STD. I resent that line of thinking, but I know I'm not the only one who armed themselves with it to make it through the constant stigmatization and ridicule from both society and the healthcare system. But fear of social backlash does not mean you should ignore suspicious symptoms—or treat Google like an urgent care provider. Debunking the misinformation behind STDs and encouraging women to advocate for our sexual health and development has never been more important.
How will I know if I have chlamydia?
Certain symptoms are fairly common in chlamydia, but not every woman is the same, so regular testing is the best way to determine if you've been infected.
- Chlamydia is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex and can result in pain while urinating, a vaginal discharge that is abnormal and foul-smelling, and pain during sex for women.
- Chlamydia may cause some women to experience bleeding between periods.
- If chlamydia is contracted orally, infected tonsils and discomfort resembling strep throat are common, but not universal.
So, if you notice any of these symptoms after unprotected sex, getting to a healthcare provider is the next best course of action. Urgent cares, primary care physicians and blood-testing labs offer full STD panels, so depending on your insurance plan or finances, choose the best course of action for yourself.
What about treatment?
When my first treatment did not work for me, I not only felt hopeless but also misunderstood by the medical providers I trusted to value my safety and believe me. The assumption that I must have undergone new sexual activity while being treated was detrimental to my health, and by the time I saw another provider, it was too late to eradicate it. Both medical professionals and sexually active members of society should understand that treatment for chlamydia and other STIs are not one-size-fits-all situations. Another misfortune is that the common treatment methods for chlamydia may not work: There is a 2 percent failure rate for azithromycin, which is the leading antibiotic for treating chlamydia. Luckily, since 2010, healthcare professionals have backed a second drug, doxycycline, as a more effective treatment method. When these treatments fail or chlamydia goes entirely untreated, complications can arise for women, so it is important to understand what those are and how to advocate for a second treatment. With nearly 4 million Americans positive for chlamydia each year and rising, healthcare providers seem to be operating on an assembly line of treatment. Test, prescribe drugs and advise to return for testing in three months.
And what if treatment doesn't work for me?
If treatment for chlamydia fails or goes untreated, women can develop a pelvic inflammatory infection (PID), an infection that can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes. PID often causes severe pelvic pain and can necessitate hospitalization and, in the long term, can cause permanent damage to the female reproductive system, including possible infertility.
If your first round of chlamydia treatment does not work, I encourage you to speak up. It's not like a switch you can flip, I know, but when I told myself "the sooner I am negative for chlamydia, the sooner I never have to see this doctor again and can move on with my life," it suddenly became easier to speak up for myself.
So how do I protect my sexual health?
There is no 100 percent effective protection against chlamydia, save for abstinence, so it is best to use condoms, get screened regularly and/or after every new partner and don't be afraid to tell your healthcare provider what you need. I had to see two different medical providers and go through two rounds of azithromycin before doxycycline was successful. In the nine months it took to get there, I challenged myself to remove the stigmas I was conditioned to have and replace them with knowledge and acceptance of myself and of others in my same position.