Can infertility be caused by a sexually transmitted disease?

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Infertility is a rising area of concern. Health experts talk about FAQs on sexually transmitted diseases and their impact on fertility.

A common public health concern worldwide is infertility or the inability to conceive after 12 months or longer of regular unprotected sexual intercourse. According to an American research on STDs, Women, and Infertility, “Sexually transmitted diseases, namely, gonorrhea and chlamydia, may be associated with pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and can cause damage to a woman’s fallopian tubes.”

For the uninitiated, sexually transmitted disease (STD) or sexually transmitted infections (STI) are infections that are passed from one person to another through sexual contact. Though the contact is usually through vaginal, oral or anal sex, they can sometimes spread through another intimate physical contact and can cause infertility in women.

infertility and STI
Is there a link between STDs and infertility. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is STD infertility?

STD infertility is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which is the next complicated stage of sexually transmitted disease. As per the report in WebMD journal, “PID is an infection and resulting inflammation that involves the internal reproductive organs. It could result in infertility, serious illness and death.”

Pelvic inflammatory disease develops when microorganisms, like bacteria, infect female reproductive organs. Normally the cervix or the lower part of the uterus extending into the vagina, acts as a barrier to prevent the entry of disease-causing microorganisms into the inner reproductive organs but during certain disease conditions, the cervix gets tainted and facilitates the entry of microorganisms to the other parts, which might lead to PID.

It results in infection of the womb, fallopian tubes (tubes that carry eggs from the ovaries to the womb) and other reproductive organs, leading to infertility. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Untreated, about 10-15% of women with chlamydia will develop PID. Chlamydia can also cause fallopian tube infection without any symptoms. PID and “silent” infection in the upper genital tract may cause permanent damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and surrounding tissues, which can lead to infertility.”


The most common cause is having sex with a person infected with Chlamydia which is a sexually transmitted disease caused by an organism called Chlamydia trachomatis. “Other than that, those women who choose to have multiple sex partners and the ones who are in the right age cohort of conceiving are also at most risk,” reveals Dr Anubha Singh, Gynecologist and IVF Specialist from Shantah Fertility Centre, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi.

She adds, “Females under the age of 25 are also more likely to develop Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) than those older than 25, the fundamentals behind this are that the cervix of girls below 25 is not fully prepared to fight with Sexually Transmitted Disease which later results in PID.”

chlamydia and infertility
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

There are diverse grounds for being troubled by the disease and one can get PID through several ways and many different types of bacteria can cause PID but most cases are the result of a sexually transmitted infection such as Chlamydia or gonorrhea. “Chlamydia and gonorrhea are important preventable causes of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and infertility,” as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most cases of PID are caused by an infection that has spread from the vagina or the neck of the womb (cervix) to the reproductive organs higher up and it mostly affects sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 24. It is common in females and is gradually growing in India, especially in metropolitan cities, because of so much exposure to sex.


· Vaginal irritation

· Vaginal discharge

· Lower abdominal pain

· Intermenstrual bleeding

· Fever

· Vomiting

· Bleeding after sexual intercourse

contraception and infertility
Don’t ignore contraceptives. Image courtesy: Shutterstock


According to Dr Anubha Singh, “The most effective way of preventing PID is to protect you against STIs by using a barrier method of contraception such as a male or female condom and to get regular sexual health check-ups.” Dr Shobha Gupta, Medical Director and IVF specialist from Mother’s Lap IVF Centre, New Delhi, elaborates on the same by asserting, “The infection is curable with the help of a course of antibiotics. It is important to treat chlamydia as untreated chlamydia can lead to infertility issues and cause health problems later. It is important to get yourself tested for STDs at regular intervals if you are sexually involved with new partners. Seek medical help; early detection can prevent severe outcomes. Precaution is better than cure.”

She added, “One should get early treatment if they find they are infected with STD, usage of condoms is mandatory. Practicing safe sex, using superior quality latex condoms which can reduce the risk of STD.” Suggesting regular testing for sexually active women aged 25 or younger, older women who have a new sex partner or multiple sex partners and all pregnant women, Dr Shobha Gupta pointed, “Any genital symptoms such as an unusual sore, discharge with odour, burning during urination or bleeding between menstrual cycles could mean Sexually Transmitted Infection. In such a scenario one should abstain from having sex and consult a gynecologist.”

Since Pelvic Inflammatory Disease can lead to serious consequences including infertility or pregnancy in the fallopian tube or elsewhere outside of the womb, sore formation and chronic pelvic pain, it is important to not take the symptoms casually instead, seek treatment at the earliest.

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