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. If you would like more information about fertility issues, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or sign up for our newsletter.