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STDs and Infertility

We are constantly reminded to do everything we can to protect ourselves from the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But just because we are more aware of them today than we were 20 years ago does not mean they are any less prevalent.

According to the American Social Health Association, approximately 65 million people in the United States have an STD. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how many new cases are reported each year because most STDs are "silent," showing either minor symptoms or none at all. This is why they often go untreated and can have serious effects on your reproductive system.

Though chlamydia and gonorrhea have not been proven to have as much of an impact on male fertility as they have on female infertility, they can cause damaging effects to the health of both sexes when left untreated. A man's sperm production could be impeded, or a woman may find herself with severe damage to her reproductive organs, without either of them ever knowing that they had contracted an STD.

Recent studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) show that throughout the world, 38 percent of infertility cases are caused by STDs. Infertility has numerous causes, but the most avoidable cause is STDs.

Chlamydia

One of the "silent" diseases, chlamydia is particularly dangerous among STDs. Seventy-five percent of infected women and at least half of infected men don't know they have the disease because they don't notice any symptoms. With an estimated 3 million new cases in the United States each year, chlamydia is by far the most common bacterial STD.

Without treatment, chlamydia can lead to an infection in women known as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID occurs when the C. trachomatis bacteria move from the cervix, where they enter during intercourse, to the uterus and fallopian tubes. Once the bacteria have spread, they can cause scarring and permanent damage to the reproductive organs including the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes. Scar tissue in the fallopian tubes can make the passage of a fertilized egg into the uterus very difficult, and increases the risk of having an ectopic pregnancy, a dangerous condition that requires emergency surgery.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates chlamydia leads to PID in up to 40 percent of cases. A woman who suffers a severe case of chlamydia is five times more likely to suffer from infertility than if she develops a mild infection. After one episode of PID, one in twelve women is left infertile, one in five after a second episode, and 40 percent are left infertile after three or more episodes. Prompt treatment of PID, however, can lower the infertility risk significantly.

Symptoms of PID include fever, lower abdominal or back pain, and vaginal discharge. If chlamydia symptoms occur, they usually appear within 1 to 3 weeks of exposure, and might include abnormal vaginal discharge or a burning feeling while urinating.

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