Can Previous Chlamydia Cause Problems with Pregnancy?

Julie Kirk
Co-author Lynsey Keep, RN
concerned patient consulting with doctor

Chlamydia is known to have potentially detrimental effects on a woman's fertility even years after the infection is contracted. This may cause concern among many would-be moms who may be worried that a previous chlamydia infection may cause problems for future pregnancy.

Chlamydia: A Potentially Dangerous Infection

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. The incidence of the infection is believed to be on the increase, particularly in the 24-year-old and under age group. Since this harmful infection has no obvious symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose. It is often described as a 'silent' infection. Possible problems resulting from chlamydia infection are:

The risk of experiencing any of the above problems is automatically increased the more times a person contracts the infection. However, any of the problems can be experienced, even if treatment has been given to cure the infection. If it is suspected that an individual has had sexual contact with an infected person, it is essential that they are tested to confirm and eliminate the presence of the infection.

Testing for Chlamydia During Pregnancy

Fortunately, prenatal care offers women the opportunity to be tested for chlamydia with a vaginal swab at the initial prenatal examination and potentially in the third trimester as well. Chlamydia that is present during pregnancy can cause serious harm to the newborn infant including: eye infections such as conjunctivitis (pink-eye) and 'chlamydia pneumonia'.

Does Previous Chlamydia Cause Problems With Pregnancy?

Any previous infection of chlamydia renders a woman at a greater risk of problems during her pregnancy. Previous damage to the pelvic region or associated reproductive organs may be directly linked to chlamydia and cause problems with the pregnancy.

Ectopic Pregnancy

In the case of ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg can embed itself and grow in the fallopian tube (or anywhere outside the uterus) instead of in the uterus. This creates the risk of the fallopian tube rupturing because of the growing embryo. Ectopic pregnancy tends to occur due to scarring of the fallopian tube, causing the fertilized egg to adhere in the tube (or elsewhere), and it is unable to continue its journey to the uterus. This scarring is often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, which can occur as a direct result of a chlamydia infection.

Ectopic Pregnancy Is Serious and Can Be Life Threatening

When a pregnant woman presents with intense pain and a suspected ectopic pregnancy, it is usually a serious and dangerous situation. Severe pelvic pain is the most common symptom, which is often indicative of the actual rupture of the affected tube. Ectopic pregnancy can be life threatening to the pregnant woman. If a tubal rupture occurs, this can cause serious internal bleeding and put the woman's life at risk.

Ectopic pregnancy is the greatest health risk linked to a previous chlamydia infection and pregnancy. However, a greater amount of pregnancy-related problems occur when the chlamydia infection remains present during the pregnancy and is not treated accordingly.

Chlamydia and Miscarriage

Women may also be worried that there is the possibility that chlamydia can cause a miscarriage. There is conflicting evidence regarding this connection. It is suggested that the chance of miscarriage due to chlamydia is very small since most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities and not by infection. However, according to one study, there does appear to be a link with chlamydia and miscarriage. The study demonstrated that the prevalence of chlamydia was higher in the miscarriage group than in the control group and that the association between miscarriage and chlamydia was significant.

If you have any concerns regarding chlamydia and the possibility of miscarriage, it should be discussed with your doctor.

Treatment for Chlamydia

Fortunately, chlamydia can be treated during pregnancy. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics (a single dose or a 5 to 10 day course), and you will be tested again about three weeks later and possibly in another three months to make sure the infection is gone. However, even after treatment there are slight risks that the infant may still be born with chlamydia-related problems.

There are no 'everyday' treatments for the associated problems caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). For those undergoing fertility treatment, there is the possibility of surgery to remove the scarring that has formed on the fallopian tubes as a direct result of PID, but this treatment is not commonplace.

Chlamydia Should Be Taken Seriously

So, in answer to the question: does previous chlamydia cause problems with pregnancy? The answer is 'yes', however the problems from the previous infection are fewer than those of an active infection that is undiagnosed and untreated during pregnancy.

Prevention of Chlamydia and Staying Safe

Prevention of the chlamydia infection is without a doubt a more favorable option than acquiring the infection and being at lifelong risk of the health problems it causes. Practicing safe sex is the best way to avoid contracting the disease and the use of condoms is the recommended method. There can never be a 100 percent guarantee of avoiding such an infection, even with the use of condoms; however, getting into good habits where safe sexual practices are concerned does reduce the risk significantly.

Can Previous Chlamydia Cause Problems with Pregnancy?