How STIs Impact Fertility

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a common cause of both male and female infertility, yet many people don’t realize they’re at risk. You may have had an STI but never experienced symptoms, or you might have had an infection a long time ago and never connected it with infertility later on. Fortunately, treatment is available to help.

STIs Are Common

According to the CDC, more than 2 million cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia occur in the U.S. each year. These three STIs are closely monitored by the CDC because they’re so prevalent and represent a major public health concern. But other STIs, like human papillomavirus (HPV), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B and C, and the lesser discussed chancroid, trichomoniasis, and mycoplasma genitalium can also impact your fertility. 

STIs Often Go Unnoticed

Although a striking number of STIs are reported each year, the actual number is likely far higher because STIs often go unnoticed when people are asymptomatic. However, STIs can still negatively impact your health and fertility, which is why it’s so important to be screened regularly. 

How STIs Impact Fertility in Men

For men, STIs impact fertility primarily through structural changes in the reproductive tract or changes in sperm quality and quantity. For example, chancroid (an STI that causes genital ulcers) and mycoplasma genitalium (a bacterial STI) can cause scarring that interferes with ejaculation. And STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to epididymitis (inflammation of the tube at the back of your testicle), which can also cause infertility when left untreated. These STIs are also associated with a higher risk of contracting HIV and other infections.

Some STIs, including HIV, HPV, chlamydia, and hepatitis B and C are linked to a lower sperm count, a higher number of unhealthy sperm, or problems with sperm motility (ability to “swim”). Importantly, STIs can be passed on to your partner, who may also develop fertility problems from them. And some can even be transferred to your baby if you conceive.

How STIs Impact Fertility in Women

Many STIs are able to travel through your entire reproductive tract, causing inflammation and scarring that then impact your ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy. In fact, tubal factor infertility (problems with your fallopian tubes) is responsible for 30 percent of infertility impacting women in the U.S., and the number is even greater worldwide. 

When certain viruses, bacteria, or protozoa enter your reproductive tract, they’re able to infect your cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. These infections cause inflammation, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to scarring if left untreated.  Additionally, the damage resulting from infection may prevent sperm from reaching your eggs or stop your fertilized egg from reaching your uterus, leading to an ectopic pregnancy. 

Some STIs also increase your risk of miscarriage, and many STIs can be passed to your baby, leading to life-threatening complications if untreated. STIs that impact female fertility include: 

  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • HPV
  • HIV
  • Mycoplasma genitalium
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Hepatitis 

Indirect Ways STIs Impact Fertility

STIs may also indirectly impact your fertility due to specific symptoms or complications. STIs like herpes, chancroid, and HPV can cause painful warts or sores that prevent you from having sex and prevent your partner from potentially contracting an STI. 

Other STIs, such as an HPV infection, can even cause cervical cancer. Cancer treatment may then lead to infertility due to the removal of your cervix or uterus, or damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation. 

Screening and Treatment for STIs

Because STIs are so common and you may not experience symptoms, it’s important to be screened regularly. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia can all be cured with antibiotics, but delaying treatment could lead to permanent damage and infertility. While other other STIs, like HIV and herpes, can’t be cured, they can be managed with medication. 

Because of social stigma, many people are reluctant to discuss the symptoms of STIs, or even the possibility that they may have an STI. But it’s important to be honest with both your partner and your doctor about any past history or symptoms of STIs. The longer they go untreated, the more likely it is that you will experience permanent health and fertility problems.

Fertility Treatments Can Help With Infertility Due to STIs

Fortunately, fertility treatments are available at infertility centers to help with infertility caused by STIs, though the types of treatments you receive will depend on which infection you have/had and your particular complications. Additionally, if you have an active infection, you may need antibiotics or antivirals to manage your STI before starting further treatment with an infertility center.

Some fertility treatments offered at our IVF clinic that may help you overcome infertility caused by STIs include:

These fertility treatments are available at most IVF clinics. At RISE, we always thoroughly discuss your medical history and problems that could be at the root of your infertility, including STIs. Importantly, we are an infertility center that strives to create a welcoming atmosphere where you never need to worry about being judged. 

If you’re experiencing infertility, we encourage you to schedule a fertility consult with our IVF clinic. We look forward to meeting you!

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