Know Your Body, Know Your Partner: Here’s How Infertility And STIs Intertwine

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A sexually transmitted infection (STI) is more than just a minor nuisance with uncomfortable symptoms. STIs can have lasting harmful effects on your reproductive health and are a leading cause of infertility worldwide.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the two most commons STIs that can cause infertility. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 200 million new cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea are acquired each year. Having an STI does not mean you will become infertile, but if an STI is not treated promptly, it can cause serious, long-term problems.

How do STIs affect your fertility?  

Our reproductive systems typically have a delicate balance of bacteria. STIs can disrupt that balance leading to abnormal bacteria growth and inflammation in the reproductive tract. If chlamydia or gonorrhea is left untreated, for example, a woman can develop pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can cause deep pelvic pain and lead to inflammation, scarring, and blockages in the fallopian tubes. If the fallopian tubes are blocked, the sperm cannot fertilize an egg preventing pregnancy from occurring.

If PID goes untreated, or if it is resistant to antibiotic treatment, it could cause a tubo-ovarian abscess. The abscess (a pocket of pus) can lead to severe damage/injury to the fallopian tube and/or ovary. When these puss collections have been studied in a lab, the results almost always demonstrate that a mix of bacteria is present, which is why PID can be difficult to treat.

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What should you do if you have an STI? 

If you’ve been diagnosed with an STI, it’s important to take the medications as prescribed by your doctor (stopping antibiotics early can cause antibiotic resistance!) and to tell your partner right away. 

The transmission of STIs can be reduced substantially by using condoms and having open and honest communication with your partner about your sexual history. Many individuals with STIs are asymptomatic (with no noticeable symptoms), so regular STI testing is also important. If you’re sexually active, it is recommended to undergo STI testing at least once a year. 

Fertility Treatment after an STI

If an STI has impacted your ability to conceive on your own, there are fertility treatments that can help you have a baby. For instance, in vitro fertilization (IVF) is an effective treatment for women who have damaged their fallopian tubes due to STIs. During the IVF process, sperm and egg are combined in the lab to allow for fertilization outside of the body with subsequent transfer of the embryo back into the uterus. 

If you’re interested in growing your family with fertility treatments, it’s important to find an experienced fertility specialist that does comprehensive fertility testing and develops a personalized treatment plan that’s right for you.

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