The cries and cooing of a baby are natural sounds. It is very much natural also, to desire to have your own baby, to be called ‘dad’ or ‘mum,’ and to go through the mysterious stages of pregnancy with your partner. To conceive seems to be the easiest task; lots of sex should guarantee that.
Consequently, it becomes depressing to watch your dreams and aspirations of carrying your own baby thrown against the wall of hopelessness when you realize that your efforts are not paying off. Every pointer tells you that you are infertile. Suddenly, life loses its appeal.
It is important to note that being a dad or mum isn’t restricted to getting one or being pregnant; it is also natural to adopt babies, and lovingly nurture them as you would your biological babies. Many men and women live fulfilling lives having these precious gifts that were not biologically theirs. That said, the wellness of our reproductive health should be made a priority.
With the rising trend in the prevalence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), the male and female reproductive systems have increasingly become susceptible to the complications arising from these deadly diseases. Always saddening, these diseases show no symptoms in many infected persons. They creep in silently and can escape the sight of the most observant eyes.
Sometimes, they present with symptoms that could be innocuously mistaken for ‘simple’ illnesses. It is possible to go to the hospital to treat a common flu attack that refused to heal, only to be baffled by reports that you could be suffering from an STD. STDs can rob us of a lot of precious possessions, including our fertility.
Almost all STDs can affect one’s fertility. At their early stages of infection, these diseases do not pose any known threat to one's fertility. The problem of fertility rears up its ugly head when these diseases progress in the body, spreading their ferocious tentacles to vulnerable tissues and organs, especially those that make up the reproductive system.
How do STDs affect one's fertility?
Here, these diseases are taken, one after the other, to shed light on how they affect chances of making babies.
An age-long disease, Gonorrhea is caused by the bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhea. This bacterium is contracted during sex with a man or a woman infected by it. Usually without symptoms, the newly infected person is unaware of the danger he/she has stepped into. There is no treatment sought for since there is no obvious illness. The bacterium replicates and progresses in the body, resulting in Gonorrhea.
Gonorrhea is capable of damaging the reproductive tracts, including the male's epididymis (the coiled tube where sperm ducts are located. These sperm ducts permit sperm cells to be released into the penis), and the female's fallopian tubes and cervix.
When Gonorrhea is not noticed and consequently left untreated, the epididymis becomes inflamed, and recurrent inflammation leads to the scarring and blocking of the sperm ducts. Sperm cells are prevented from being released, which is a glaring cause of infertility in men.
In women, undiscovered and untreated Gonorrheal infection gives rise to a condition known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), whose complications include the blocking of the fallopian tubes. Normally, the fallopian tubes have finger-like projections called fimbriae, which pick the eggs released from a woman's ovaries. There, the eggs could be fertilized by sperm cells that travel way up the fallopian tubes.
However, when the fallopian tubes are blocked, the fertilized eggs fail to travel down the tubes, through to the uterus (womb) where they should be implanted for maturation into a baby. This phenomenon is called Tubal Factor Infertility, which squashes the woman's ability to have her baby.
Caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, Chlamydia is one of the most common STDs in the world. Complications of Chlamydia come when it is left untreated. In men, infertility caused by Chlamydia results from the destruction of their sperm cells by making the genetic material in the sperm cells abnormal. Also, the male epididymis can get scarred from recurrent Chlamydia infection.
Prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland) can arise with Chlamydia, and it negatively affects sperm count, sperm function, and sperm structure. In women, untreated Chlamydia facilitates PID. Recurrent PID scars and blocks the fallopian tubes as is obtainable with Gonorrhea.
One may wonder how cold sores and blisters can bring about infertility. Well, it has been recently discovered that a unique but common strain of the herpes simplex virus which causes herpes can infect the lining of a woman's womb. The immune response of the woman's body to the virus in her womb makes her body to release natural killer cells, which in turn, produce cytokines (chemicals that are used by the immune system to destroy foreign bodies).
While attacking herpes in the womb, cytokines also destroy the walls of the womb and make it difficult for a fertilized egg to be implanted on the uterine wall. This causes infertility.
Untreated syphilis in a pregnant woman can make her miscarry her baby, or make her give birth to a dead baby.
This pathogenic bacterium can escape detection, is slow-growing, and can be confused with other STDs. It is resistant to certain antibiotic treatment also. Complications arising from Mycobacterium genitalium infection lead to urethritis and cervicitis. These complications cause infertility in both men and women.
The Human Papilloma Virus
The virus alone does not cause infertility. However, if left to progress, HPV brings about the growth of precancerous cervix cells or cervical cancer. The removal of precancerous cells can weaken the cervical muscles and makes cervical secretion insufficient for sperm cells to swim up to the fallopian tubes. Cervical cancer can affect the womb, making hysterectomy a necessary evil. Hysterectomy is a procedure for the removal of the womb.
Is there any hope of getting pregnant when STDs strike?
Yes, there is. With adequate and effective treatment, there is an increased chance of fertility in men and women with STDs. When the diseases are well-managed and treated, infertility can be a story of the past.
The best advice against infertility caused by STDs
Get screened/tested, and on time. Early detection of STDs strongly helps in preventing infertility arising from their complications. Since most persons are commonly asymptomatic to STDs, waiting to see or to feel something wrong could be quite dangerous, most especially if you are sexually active.