Can Previous Chlamydia Cause Problems with Pregnancy?

Lynsey Keep, RN
3D rendering of woman's reproductive system

Chlamydia is known to have potentially detrimental effects on a woman's fertility, even years after the infection is contracted, which makes many would-be moms raise the question: does previous Chlamydia cause problems with pregnancy?

Chlamydia: A Potentially Dangerous Infection

Chlamydia is the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection in the US and the UK. The incidence of the infection is believed to be on the increase, particularly in the under 24-year age group. Since this harmful infection occurs in people who have no symptoms, it is often described as a 'silent' infection. Possible problems resulting from Chlamydia infection are:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Ectopic pregnancy.
  • Chronic pelvic pain.
  • Infertility.

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 either eliminate or confirm the presence of the infection.

Fortunately, prenatal care offers women the opportunity to be tested for Chlamydia with a vaginal swab at the initial prenatal examination. 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', a condition which in a newborn can be fatal.

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 some common pregnancy problems.

In the case of ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg can embed itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus and begins to grow there. This creates a risk of rupture to the fallopian tube because of the growing embryo which occupies its space. Ectopic pregnancy tends to occur due to scarring of the fallopian tube, causing the fertilized egg to adhere to its surface rather than continue its journey to the uterus. This scarring is often caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, which can occur as a direct result of Chlamydia infection.

When a pregnant woman presents with an ectopic pregnancy, it is usually at a point when the situation has become more serious and more dangerous. Severe pelvic pain is the most common symptom, however, this is often caused by the actual rupture of the affected tube. Ectopic pregnancy can be life threatening to the pregnant woman, particularly when rupture occurs and will certainly cause miscarriage of the pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancy is the greatest health risk linked to previous Chlamydia and pregnancy. A greater amount of pregnancy-related problems occur when the Chlamydia infection remains present during pregnancy. The issues relating to infertility and the inability to achieve pregnancy are more profound than issues arising from previous Chlamydia and pregnancy itself.

Fortunately, Chlamydia can be treated during pregnancy, but even after treatment there are slight risks that the infant may still be born with Chlamydia-related problems. There are however no 'everyday' treatments for the associated problems caused by pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). For those undergoing fertility investigations and 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.

So, in answer to the question: does previous Chlamydia cause problems with pregnancy? The answer is 'yes', however problems of previous infection are fewer than those where infection is present during pregnancy. Irrespective of this, the major risk of ectopic pregnancy is hopefully enough of a warning to women about the need to practice safe sex even years before wanting to start a family.

Prevention of Chlamydia

Prevention of the Chlamydia infection is without a doubt a more favorable option than acquiring the infection and being at life-long 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.

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Can Previous Chlamydia Cause Problems with Pregnancy?