Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are diseases spread through sexual contact. They include human papillomavirus (HPV), chlamydia, gonorrhea, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In some cases, particularly with chlamydia and gonorrhea, a STI can contribute to infertility and fertility problems such as ectopic pregnancy. If you are trying for a baby, you should be aware of how these diseases can affect your chances.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
The most common source of infertility connected to STIs is pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. The disease affects about a million women every year in the United States.
While PID can result from a number of bacterial infections, in 75% – 90% of cases, it is caused at least in part by the bacteria that cause chlamydia and gonorrhea. If left untreated, PID can cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy, long-term pelvic pain, and cancer. About 1 in 8 women who have had the disease have trouble getting pregnant.
Preventing pelvic inflammatory disease involves treating the STIs or other bacteria that cause it. Chlamydia can be easily treated with antibiotics. Gonorrhea can also generally be treated, though many strains of the disease have developed resistance to antibiotics that makes treatment longer and more involved. If left untreated, 10% of those with chlamydia infections and 40% of those with gonorrhea will develop PID. If caught early, PID itself can also be treated with antibiotics.
Other STI-Related Infertility
Other STIs can impact fertility in other ways. Herpes and syphilis both can cause miscarriages. A relatively newly discovered bacteria called Mycoplasma genitalium has been linked to PID as well as endometritis – inflammation of the uterine lining. Perhaps the most-feared STI, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can disrupt hormone production and even stop your period.
STIs can also contribute to male infertility. Chlamydia infection can cause DNA fragmentation in sperm up to three times higher than in uninfected men. Chlamydia and gonorrhea infections can also lead to scarring that can block the passage of sperm. Some STIs may even impair the generation of sperm, and infection may increase the production of antibodies that can attack sperm in the body.
Due to the invasive and damaging nature of many STIs, is important for anyone who is sexually active to get tested for sexually transmitted infections. In many cases, early detection can mean the difference between health and a lasting effect on your chances of getting pregnant. Talk to your doctor about testing and treatment, if necessary.
Common Vaginal Infections
Vaginitis – This term covers a wide range of symptoms and conditions that can cause an infection or inflammation of the vagina, including yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea. While many of the symptoms of these conditions differ, it can be difficult to diagnose them because it’s possible to have more than one of these infections at a time.
Yeast Infection – Around 75% of women will have at least one yeast infection in their lives. In regular amounts, the fungus that causes yeast infections, candida albicans, is completely normal and exists within the mucous membranes of the vagina. However, when overproduced, the fungus can cause an infection.
- Mild to severe vaginal itching
- Thick, white discharge with a yeast or bread-like odor
- Swelling and irritation of the vulva
- A burning sensation during or after sexual intercourse and urination
Bacterial vaginosis – Scientists aren’t sure what exactly causes bacteria in the vagina to get out of balance. However, your chances of getting an infection like bacterial vaginosis are higher if you have more than one sexual partner, a new sexual partner, or if you douche.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Grayish-white or yellow vaginal discharge
- A “fishy” smell to the discharge
However, about half of women with bacterial vaginosis don’t experience any symptoms.
Gonorrhea – Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that both men and women can have. It typically causes pain in the genital tract but it can also cause problems in the rectum, throat, eyes, and joints. Gonorrhea is passed through intercourse, oral sex (both giving and receiving), and coming into contact with an infected area on another person’s body.
How Can an Infection Inhibit Conception?
If you are affected by infections once or twice a year that go away with home treatments, you probably won’t be affected by more serious problems that can go hand-in-hand with the infections.
However, repeated vaginal yeast infections can cause a disruption to the natural flora – or bacteria – of the vagina. This, in turn, could make it more difficult for sperm to reach the uterus. The sperm is not killed by the candida albicans itself but rather by changes in the cervical mucous caused by the out of balance bacteria and fungus associated with a yeast infection.
An imbalance in the vaginal flora could also leave you open to other infections and diseases which could leave you impaired for fertility later in your life. Yeast infections can even be passed on to your child if you have the infection when your baby is born.
An infection won’t directly affect your ability to conceive but it will probably discourage you from engaging in sexual intercourse due to the itchiness, irritation, and stress of the situation. Consult your doctor before trying any home remedies for vaginal infections.