Taking good care of your body is one of the best things you can do to support future fertility, and that includes preventing the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Any infection affecting the pelvic area poses a threat to female infertility, usually via scar tissue or blockages, and interferes with normal conception or the implantation and growth of a fertilized egg in the uterus. We wish more young women were proactive about protecting fertility long before they’re ever ready to start a family.
There are five sexually transmitted diseases or infections that contribute to female infertility and cause long-term harm to the female reproductive tract. This is why sexually active women must use condoms when having sexual intercourse with new or nonmonogamous partners at any age.
We also recommend all sexually active women:
- Schedule annual well-woman exams.
- Get tested for STDs whether they think they’re at risk.
- Visit a physician or OB/GYN when experiencing any unusual symptoms to rule out the possibility of an STD.
Here are five sexually transmitted diseases or infections that can compromise fertility later on.
Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection easily treated with antibiotics. There are more than one million new cases of gonorrhea diagnosed in the U.S. each year. The problem is that it can be asymptomatic – meaning women don’t know they have it. Also, some of the most common symptoms (pain while urinating, unusual discharge, and pelvic pain are easily blamed on other things. Also, some women are so embarrassed about contracting STDs that they don’t see their doctors when they should.
While gonorrhea often clears up on its own, it can leave significant scarring in its wake. Gonorrhea is most likely to scar the fallopian tubes. This scar tissue is a tubal blockage, which is responsible for nearly 30% of all female infertility cases. It also has the potential to scar or alter the surface of the uterus, which may interfere with implantation or healthy fetal development.
Men are at risk, too! Untreated gonorrhea can also contribute to male infertility because chronic inflammation of the sperm ducts may block sperm from making their way into the vagina.
Chlamydia is one of the most commonly spread STDs, and there are nearly four million new cases diagnosed in the United States annually. Chlamydia is also a bacterial infection that can occur with minimal to no symptoms but is easily treated using antibiotics. Untreated chlamydia can make it harder to get pregnant when you’re ready to start a family.
About 10% to 15% of women with untreated chlamydia develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause scarring and blockages that cause infertility.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) has received a lot of attention in the past ten years because more than 25% of sexually active people have it at one time or another – and rarely know it. Like other STDs, women with PID may experience symptoms they blame on something else – like a rough period, a urinary tract infection, or the flu.
However, the widespread inflammation in the uterus and pelvic organs may cause scarring that leads to infertility. In addition to the 10% or 15% of women who experience infertility related to PID, women who have scarring associated with PID or other STDs are also at higher risk for an ectopic pregnancy or a solo-functioning fallopian tube.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that is passed through sexual contact OR via contact with a syphilis sore. While less common than gonorrhea or chlamydia, syphilis infections are very serious. Women with syphilis have a 50% chance of experiencing a miscarriage or giving birth to a stillborn child.
Testing and early treatment are essential, as untreated syphilis is a progressive disease that can also cause heart problems, seizures, and dementia.
In addition to bacterial STDs, two common viral STDs impact fertility. The first is human papillomavirus (HPV), which vaccines can largely prevent. We referenced the importance of annual well-woman visits above, including visits to primary care physicians. These visits can be instrumental in helping you prevent STDs or treat infections you didn’t know you had. Getting vaccinated for HPV early and throughout your sexually active teens and 20s can help prevent the development of HPV and reduce cervical cancer risk.
While HPV doesn’t cause infertility, it does cause PID, which can then contribute to scarring and blockages. Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) are also very contagious and have no cure. While having HSV doesn’t cause infertility, it can cause complications for the baby during vaginal birth, so honesty with your OB/GYN or fertility specialist is 100% necessary if you have HSV.
Honestly is always the best policy when you’re experiencing infertility. Even a single STD that you caught and treated should be documented by our team so we can look for any potential long-term side effects contributing to scarring or blockages.
The team of physicians and nurses at Fertility Solutions holds absolutely zero judgment. We are here to support you and do everything we can to help you start the family you’ve always dreamed of. Contact us to schedule your consultation so we can get started on your personalized fertility treatment plan.