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Top Four STDs That May Harm Fertility
Reported cases of STDs are on the rise, according to a recent CDC report. While treatable and preventable, some STDs can affect a woman’s chance of getting pregnant.
As part of a fertility workup, all women are tested for STDs, says Dr. Meike Uhler, a fertility doctor with Fertility Centers of Illinois. If a patient tests positive for any of these diseases, treatment follows the recommendations of the CDC.
Dr. Uhler provides an overview of the most prevalent STDs and how they impact fertility.
Chlamydia. Chlamydia is the most common STD; 1.4 million cases were reported in 2014. This disease poses the largest threat to your fertility, says Dr. Uhler.
- Symptoms: Most women who contract chlamydia will not have any symptoms. However some will have abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning sensation during urination several weeks after sex with an infected partner.
- Fertility: Untreated chlamydia can spread to the uterus and fallopian tubes, resulting in pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), long-term pelvic pain and infertility. PID causes permanent damage to the reproductive system by scarring and causing blockage in the tubes which can prevent a fertilized egg from reaching the womb and can result in an ectopic pregnancy.
- Treatment: Chlamydia can be cured with antibiotics.
Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is the second most common STD with 350,000 cases. While they are two different diseases, chlamydia and gonorrhea are commonly diagnosed together, Uhler says.
- Symptoms: Like chlamydia, most women do not have symptoms. However some may experience pain or burning during urination, increased vaginal discharge and vaginal bleeding between periods.
- Fertility: Untreated gonorrhea can cause PID, which can result in scar tissue blocking the fallopian tubes, ectopic pregnancy, infertility and pelvic pain.
- Treatment: According to the CDC, “Antibiotics have successfully treated gonorrhea for several decades; however, the bacteria has developed resistance to nearly every drug used for treatment.” The CDC now recommends dual therapy (two drugs).
Syphilis. While less common at 20,000 cases, the CDC report shows an alarming 23% increase among women, Uhler says.
- Symptoms: Syphilis progresses through three phases, starting with one or more painless sores on the genitals, rectum or mouth. The second phase involves rashes on the skin, which can occur all over the body but are commonly found on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Fertility: Syphilis is not known to directly cause infertility. If left untreated, a mother with syphilis can pass congenital syphilis to her baby resulting in miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and death shortly after birth.
- Treatment: Syphilis can be successfully treated with antibiotics, however treatment will not undue any damage already caused.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Approximately 79 million people in the U.S. have HPV, and there are estimated to be 14 million new infections each year. Approximately 80% of women will be infected with some type of HPV by age 50.
- Symptoms: HPV may case genital warts and is found in about 99% of cervical cancers.
- Fertility: HPV is not known to directly cause infertility. Cervical cancer can be detected and removed without affecting reproductive potential. Should cervical cancer progress, removing larger areas of cervical tissue can be necessary, which can weaken the cervix and increase chances of miscarriage. Cell removal can also decrease cervical mucus production, which may decrease the ability of sperm to swim up the reproductive tract.
- Treatment: It is best to receive the HPV vaccine before age 26. There is no treatment for the HPV virus, but there is treatment for genital warts and for cancer.