Sexually-transmitted diseases, also called STDs or STIs, are spread by sexual contact with an infected person through the genitals, mouth, or anus. Many cases of female infertility are attributed to untreated STDs, specifically, the two most common STDs: chlamydia and gonorrhea. These preventable, common causes of infertility can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the upper genital tract. PID may cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and other surrounding tissues, making it impossible to conceive. Left untreated, up to 15% of women with chlamydia develop PID, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How Do STDs Cause Infertility?
The reason PID can lead to infertility is because it can cause scarring of the fallopian tubes, which blocks a man’s sperm from reaching the woman’s egg. While the number of women who have become infertile following a chlamydia infection is unknown, scientists estimate that chlamydia could be responsible for as many as one in five cases of female infertility. Women are not the only ones whose fertility can be negatively affected by a chlamydia infection, though. A male infected with chlamydia may have a lower sperm count and lower-quality sperm, and it may cause an inflammation called epididymitis, which leads to scarring of the tube that carries sperm.
Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the top two most commonly reported notifiable diseases nationwide, with more than 3 million people being infected every year. These STDs are called “silent” infections, because they often have no symptoms, so it’s extremely important for sexually active women to be regularly tested for STDs. This is important not only to preserve their fertility, but to prevent other negative consequences of STDs, which are sometimes deadly. The CDC recommends all sexually active women under 25 should be screened at least once a year for chlamydia and gonorrhea, and all women should be screened more frequently if they have risk factors. Women at higher risk of contracting an STD are those who have sex with new or multiple partners, particularly unprotected sex.
How Fast Does Chlamydia Lead to Infertility?
There is no certain timespan within which a person is more likely to experience complications from chlamydia. Some women may be infected with the bacteria for years without suffering any long-term effects, but you shouldn’t roll the dice and forego testing because of this. There is a correlation between the length of time a person has been infected with chlamydia and their risk of complications, including fertility.
Women who do conceive while infected with chlamydia may spread the STD to their baby during childbirth, which can result in conjunctivitis or pneumonia in exposed newborns. Because of this risk, women are usually screened for STDs when they have their first prenatal checkup. However, if you are pregnant and having sex with new or multiple partners, it’s important to be screened for STDs regularly.
The good news is that chlamydia is easily treatable and curable. The infection can be cured with a simple antibiotic, and the infection often leaves your system within a week. However, the damage caused by PID is irreversible. For this reason, it is vital to ensure you are regularly screened for STDs if you are not in a monogamous relationship. If you are infected with chlamydia, try not to panic or feel ashamed: it is extremely common, and the CDC estimates that 1 out of every 20 sexually active young women between 14 and 24 has had chlamydia at least once.
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