When it comes to fertility often several factors come into play, including one’s age, lifestyle,
and underlying health status. Since not all factors are easily identifiable, some couples
struggle for months or years despite putting forth their best efforts to conceive a child. One
of the more discreet factors that can contribute to infertility is the presence of a hidden
sexually transmitted disease or infection.
In the general public sexually transmitted diseases are rarely discussed as being a potential
threat to one’s fertility, yet they remain as a leading cause of infertility in both men and
women. Since some sexually transmitted infections present asymptomatically it is possible
for them to go undetected and be easily passed onto others without suspicion.
The rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea alone have risen dramatically in Canada over the last
decade and continue to do so. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the top two ‘silent’ sexually
transmitted infections, meaning that the majority of people who acquire them don’t present
with any symptoms so many don’t even realize that they have them. When symptoms are
present, many patients will report burning with urination, abnormal discharge, pelvic pain,
and spotting between periods. While they are treatable, they are quickly becoming resistant
to the standard antibiotic treatments that are available. These infections typically co-occur
together and, when left untreated, can cause a host of complications that may impair
fertility. One such complication is called pelvic inflammatory disease.
Pelvic inflammatory disease develops when an infection spreads to the upper reproductive
system where the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries are located. While it often progresses
silently without symptoms, the structural damage that can result within the reproductive
organs can be permanent and quite devastating. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are responsible
for the majority of cases, however not all organisms that cause it are sexually transmitted.
When symptoms do occur, patients may complain of chronic pelvic pain, pain during
intercourse, vaginal discharge, abnormal uterine bleeding, painful urination, nausea, and
Untreated cases of pelvic inflammatory disease are often characterized by the formation of
adhesions and scar tissue within the organs of the reproductive system, which can cause
problems down the road when the patient is looking to conceive. When scar tissue develops
within the fallopian tubes they can become significantly inflamed with fluid and even
blocked, which increases the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy – a pregnancy in which
the embryo implants outside of the uterus. Scar tissue in other locations can also interfere
with the process of ovulation, fertilization, implantation, and may increase the risk of
complications during pregnancy, including miscarriage, premature birth, and stillbirth.
Even if you haven’t been with a new partner in several years it is worth screening for STIs
and STDs if you are trying to or planning to conceive. Screening is inexpensive and the
earlier that it is caught, the less likely it will impact your fertility. If you are not quite ready to
conceive but wish to in the future, practicing safe sex and using contraception is advised to
preserve your future fertility.
Yours in health,
Dr. Jessica Geil, ND
Health Over All