Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
How do you know if you have chlamydia? Are chlamydia and AIDS related?
Lisa Oldson, MD on August 8, 2011
Does chlamydia put you at risk for HIV? The short answers is yes. In fact,a breakthrough study as far back as 1993 showed that people with chlamydia are more likely to get HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In particular, women with chlamydia are three times more likely to get HIV if exposed to the virus than women who don’t have chlamydia.
That said, untreated chlamydia can cause a host of serious health problems down the road...but it won’t become HIV. Chlamydia is an infection caused by the Chlamydia trachomatis bacteria. HIV is caused by a virus, which is different than a bacteria. The two diseases aren’t related...however, as I mentioned earlier, if you have an untreated chlamydia infection, you have an increased risk of becoming infected with HIV through unprotected sex with an infected partner.
The good news is that chlamydia is easily treatable and curable...and not everyone who is HIV-positive has AIDS.The typical treatment regime for chlamydia involves a single dose of antibiotics and not having unprotected sex for seven days after treatment.
And while HIV is not curable, many people who are HIV-positive do not develop AIDS...in fact, treatments and therapies are continuously improving as we learn more about these conditions. Today, HIV can be treated and managed with highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). And as HIV medications become increasingly effective, people with HIV who are on treatment can expect to maintain a good quality of life for a long time...but early detection is key.
How do you know if you have chlamydia? The only way to know for sure is to get tested. And while you’re at it, I encourage you to get tested for HIV and other common STDs, like gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis. If you think you might have been exposed to one STD, there’s a chance you may have been exposed to others...and getting tested is the only way to know for sure.
Regarding symptoms of chlamydia...most people don’t experience any symptoms, at least not at first. In people who do experience symptoms, women may notice an abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation while urinating. Some women may also have lower back pain, abdominal pain, pain during intercourse or bleeding between menstrual periods...all potential signs of chlamydia. Men with chlamydia might also notice a discharge from their penis or a burning sensation while urinating. But again, obvious signs and symptoms like these aren’t always present in people infected with the bacteria.
That’s why getting tested is so important...it’s the only way to know if you have a sexually transmitted infection. Left undiagnosed and untreated, chlamydia can cause reproductive problems and other health complications like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women. In fact, for sexually active women under 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend getting tested every year. The CDC also recommends getting tested annually for women older than 25 who have a new sex partner or multiple sex partners.
For more information about chlamydia symptoms, complications, testing and treatment, visit our Expert Guide to Chlamydia. And you might want to browse our Expert Guide to HIV, too. Not to mention, practicing safer sex each time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex is another great step toward STD prevention...latex condoms and dental dams can help protect you and your partner from STDs like chlamydia and HIV.
Thanks again for asking such important questions that are probably on others’ minds, as well.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.