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Will Sexually Transmitted Infections Impact Fertility?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which were 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 sexually transmitted infections impact fertility or prevent a woman from having a healthy pregnancy, some sexually transmitted infections do impact a woman’s fertility. Many STIs go unnoticed because they have no 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 impact a women’s fertility?

  • Chlamydia: This is one of the most common STIs that can adversely affect the fertility of both men and women. While Chlamydia is often a silent infection with no symptoms, Chlamydia can lead to uterine and tubal damage, and can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), a more serious infection of the uterus and Fallopian tubes.
  • Gonorrhea: Symptoms of gonorrhea include a painful or burning sensation when urinating and vaginal or penile discharge, although, like Chlamydia, it can also be asymptomatic. In some cases, gonorrhea can cause infertility through tubal damage.
  • 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 when to conceive around symptoms can make getting pregnant more difficult. In men, however, the herpes virus may cause real fertility problems, including low sperm count and poor motility (sperm movement). Herpes can be very dangerous if contracted while pregnant, especially near delivery as the infection can be transmitted to the infant and cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.
  • Syphilis: Syphilis infection can have serious long-term health effects if left untreated but typically has little impact on fertility.
  • 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 sexually transmitted infections impact fertility?

The simple answer is no. Certain bacteria 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. Importantly, vaccination for HPV is now widely available.

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, STIs make it more likely that you will experience infertility.

What are ways to prevent STIs and infertility down the road?  

If you (or your partner) think you may be at risk for an STI, the best way to prevent STIs is to use condoms unless you have been tested for these infections. To prevent HPV, the vaccine 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.

Medical contribution by: Eric A. Widra, M.D. (K Street, Washington, D.C.) and Paulette Browne, M.D. (Fair Oaks, VA)

 

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Many STIs go unnoticed because they have no symptoms, therefore, if you think you (or your partner) may be at risk, it’s important to get tested and, if necessary, treated. Even treated sexually transmitted infections can impact fertility. To learn more, please call 1-877-971-7755.

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