By Dr Aindri Sanyal
There are many factors that can impact the fertility of women as well as men. It can be unhealthy life choices, such as diet, choosing a sedentary lifestyle, being lethargic, etc. One major factor that women and men alike are blindsided to is sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Sexually transmitted diseases play a role in many infertility issues and have become a problem for numerous people.
What are STDs?
Sexually transmitted diseases or commonly known as STDs are diseases, infections, or illnesses that can be spread from a person with STD to another through sexual contact and is very common with people who have unprotected sex. Some STDs do not cause any symptoms, so many people who have an STD do not know it may spread. People with STDs and symptoms might also suffer redness or inflammation around the genitals. They might also be able to see some bumps or rashes around the genitals. Girls might also see vaginal discharge which is different from normal.
How does STD impact female fertility?
One of the world’s most common STD is chlamydia. This can pass from one partner to another through unprotected sex. STDs like chlamydia may infect the cervix, throat, anus, eyes, and urethra. The urethra is a thin tube that is connected to the bladder through which urine passes. If not a diagnosis and if left untreated, chlamydia might spread further into the body, infecting the uterus and the fallopian tubes (connecting the uterus to the ovaries). When the body detects an STD, the immune system tries to fight the infection.
When the STD is countered and immune system cells die, they generally form a discharge. The inflammation that occurs in the cervix, uterus, and or fallopian tubes is called Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). PID can present itself as a mild abdominal pain that can be overlooked if women mistake it for menstrual pain. It might also cause pain/bleeding, during or after sex. PID might end up scarring, which can block the fallopian tubes and may result in infertility, as sperm released during ejaculation may not be able to travel through the tubes to fertilize the eggs.
Damages or scarred fallopian tubes can also impact the process of moving a fertilised egg through the tube towards the uterus at the start of pregnancy. The released egg might connect itself to the fallopian tube. It then starts to develop there. This is called an ectopic pregnancy and might be extremely dangerous.
Some STDs like chlamydia might also be passed from mother to infant during childbirth which may cause an infection in the eyes of the newborn.
How does STD impact male fertility?
One of the things that are detrimental to male fertility and sperm functionality is STDs and reiterating the fact that the most dangerous can be chlamydia. Chlamydia is generally asymptomatic and goes undiagnosed, and if this is the case then the main concern is that the sperm can be damaged. Chlamydia is a bacterium that attaches itself to sperm and kills/destroys sperm prematurely. So, if the sperm of a man with chlamydia is looked at, they can see lots of dead sperm or dying sperm (although the bacteria is not visible). STD may impair sperm production.
Which STDs can affect pregnancy?
There are a few STDs that might impact your pregnancy:
Chlamydia (1 of the most recurrent Sexually transmitted disease)
How to prevent the spread of STDs?
Chlamydia and other STDs can be prevented by
Using a condom and other latex barriers
Using water-based lubricant during sexual intercourse
Having regular sexual health check-ups
Ensure you or your health provider notify your sexual partner if you are diagnosed with an STD.
Getting tested for STDs regularly. STD tests differ. Some are blood tests while some take urine and there are a few which still use a swab of saliva or discharge to see whether one has an STD. It is recommended that if sexually active one should get tested at least once a year.
(The writer is Fertility Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility, Kolkata)