Medical contribution by Paulette E. Browne, M.D.
Paulette E. Browne, M.D., is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology. Dr. Browne sees SGF patients at the Fair Oaks, Virginia, office.
How can sexually transmitted infections (STIs) impact fertility?
Sexually transmitted infections (STI), once more commonly known as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), are infections transmitted through sexual contact or intercourse that are caused by bacteria or viruses. While not all STIs will cause infertility or prevent a woman from having a healthy pregnancy, some STIs can impact a woman’s fertility if left untreated. Some STIs go unnoticed because they have what is commonly known as silent symptoms, which is why it’s important that both partners get tested and, if necessary, treated to avoid any further complications.
What are the most common STIs that can impact a women’s fertility?
- Chlamydia: This is one of the most common STIs and, if left untreated, can adversely affect the fertility of both men and women. While chlamydia is often considered a silent infection with no symptoms, chlamydia can lead to uterus and tubal damage, which can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a particularly serious condition as it can cause permanent damage in the uterus and Fallopian tubes.
- Gonorrhea: Symptoms of gonorrhea include a painful or burning sensation when urinating and vaginal or penile discharge. In some cases, gonorrhea can cause infertility because of tubal damage and scar tissue in the uterus.
- Herpes simplex virus 2: While this type of STI does not typically cause infertility in women, women are advised to avoid conception during an outbreak. Therefore, having to time conception around symptoms can make conception more difficult. In men, however, the herpes virus may cause real fertility problems, including low sperm count and poor motility (sperm movement). Herpes is also very dangerous if contracted while pregnant, especially near delivery as the infection can be transmitted to the infant and cause serious and sometimes fatal
- Syphilis: Syphilis infection can have serious long-term effects if left untreated.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a common virus found in sexually active individuals. While the virus itself may not directly cause infertility, in some cases, having HPV can increase your chances for cervical dysplasia, cervical cancer, as well as anal rectal cancers and head and neck cancers.
Do all STIs have the same impact on woman’s fertility?
The simple answer to this is no. Certain virus such as chlamydia and gonorrhea are most responsible for severe tubal damage and scar tissue. Others like herpes and syphilis can be particularly dangerous to a pregnancy. Certain types of HPV may cause precancerous cells or cancer of the cervix, and treatment for this could lead to other cervical conditions and infertility.
Are STIs treatable?
There are treatments available for all STIs; however, in the case of HPV, while the warts and cervical dysplasia caused by HPV can be treated, the virus cannot be eliminated.
Can I still get pregnant if I’ve had an STI?
Yes. Pregnancy is certainly possible if you’ve had an STI in the past. However, we recommend you consider a simple fertility evaluation if you’ve ever had an STI and you’re considering pregnancy.
What are ways to prevent STIs and infertility down the road?
The best way to prevent STIs is to use condoms and not have unprotected intercourse. It is recommended to get tested for STIs to prevent spreading it to your partner or someone else. There is a vaccine available to protect against HPV that is recommended for preteens at 11 or 12 years of age before they are exposed to the virus. For teenagers and young adults the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends vaccination up to 21 in men and 26 in women. The vaccine is not recommended for anyone older than 26 because, by that age, those still sexually active have likely already been exposed to most high-risk HPV subtypes.
STIs pose a greater threat to fertility when they are diagnosed late. Regular check-ups and open discussions with your sexual partner will help protect you from an STI.
We recommend you consider a simple fertility evaluation if you’ve ever had an STI and you’re considering pregnancy. To learn about STIs that can impact fertility or to schedule an appointment with one of our New Patient Liaisons, please call 1-877-971-7755 or submit this brief form.