Infections and Fertility: What You Need to Know

June 2023 (5 min read)

Infections can impact fertility in a number of ways. They can:

  • Inflame the reproductive organs, making it difficult for sperm to reach the egg or for the egg to implant in the uterus.
  • Damage the reproductive organs, making it impossible to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term.
  • Increase the risk of miscarriage.
  • Cause birth defects.

Some of the most common infections that can impact fertility include:

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID):

In the UK, about 200,000 people are diagnosed with Pelvic Inflammatory Disease each year. PID is more common in young women, especially those who are sexually active.

PID is an infection of the female reproductive organs, including the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. PID can cause scarring and damage to the fallopian tubes, which can make it difficult to conceive.

It is most commonly caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia, which accounts for around 35% of cases according to NICE (source), and gonorrhoea. PID can also be caused by bacteria that enter the reproductive organs from the vagina or cervix with other causative organisms including Neisseria gonorrhoeae (2–3% of cases), Mycoplasma genitalium, and organisms in normal vaginal flora (such as anaerobes). You can test the health of your vaginal microbiome through at-home test kits such as Daye’s Vaginal Microbiome Screening.

PID can cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Fever
  • Pain during sex
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Painful urination

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor right away. PID can be a serious condition, but it is usually treatable with antibiotics.

Urinary tract infection (UTI):

A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder and kidneys. UTIs can be caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract through the urethra. If a UTI is not treated, it can spread to the kidneys and cause serious health problems. UTIs can also increase the risk of miscarriage.

The good news is that with adequate management it is possible to minimise complications. Available evidence prompts the recommendation of routine screening for asymptomatic bacteriuria (ASB) in early pregnancy to minimise complications and identify those women at significant risk for preterm delivery. This is available through Plan Your Baby. Speak to our fertility experts to find out more.

Bacterial vaginosis (BV): 

Bacterial Vaginosis is a common vaginal infection, but is not sexually transmitted infection (STI), instead it is caused by an imbalance of the normal bacteria in the vagina. It is characterised by an overgrowth of predominantly anaerobic organisms and a loss of lactobacilli. The vagina loses its normal acidity, and its pH increases to greater than 4.5.BV can cause vaginal discharge, odour, and itching. BV can also increase the risk of preterm birth and infection of the newborn.

According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (source), about 1 in 3 women in the UK will experience BV at some point in their lives. About 1 in 5 women will experience BV at least once a year. Approximately 50% of women with BV are asymptomatic.

To diagnose BV, your doctor, or chosen specialist such as those fertility specialists at Plan Your Baby, will likely perform a pelvic exam. During a pelvic exam, your doctor will insert two fingers into your vagina while pressing on your abdomen with the other hand to check your pelvic organs for signs of infection. Your doctor may also take a sample of vaginal secretions to test for BV.

BV is treated with antibiotics. The most common antibiotics used to treat BV are metronidazole (Flagyl) and clindamycin (Cleocin). Antibiotics are usually taken by mouth for 5-7 days

Genital herpes:

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It can cause painful blisters or sores on the genitals. Genital herpes can increase the risk of miscarriage and birth defects.

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), around 1 in 5 people in the UK aged 16-49 have genital herpes. This means that there are around 5.6 million people in the UK with genital herpes, of which around 2.8 million are women.

The symptoms of genital herpes can vary from person to person. Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others may experience mild or severe symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Painful blisters or sores in the genital area
  • Itching or burning in the genital area
  • Pain during urination
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the groin

The symptoms of genital herpes usually go away on their own within a few weeks. However, the virus can remain dormant in the body and reactivate at any time. Reactivation can be triggered by stress, illness, or hormonal changes.

There is no cure for genital herpes, but there are treatments that can help to reduce the symptoms and the risk of transmission.

TREATMENT OPTIONS

The treatment for an infection that is impacting your fertility will depend on the type of infection you have. Some common treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections.
  • Antifungals: Antifungals are used to treat fungal infections.
  • Antivirals: Antivirals are used to treat viral infections.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be necessary to treat infections that have caused scarring or damage to the reproductive organs.

PREVENTION

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent infections that can impact fertility, including:

  • Practise safe sex: Use condoms to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections.
  • Get vaccinated: Get vaccinated against STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.
  • Wash your hands often: Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after changing a diaper.
  • Avoid sharing personal items: Do not share personal items, such as towels, razors, and toothbrushes, with others.
  • Drink plenty of fluids: Drinking plenty of fluids helps to keep your urinary tract healthy.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Eating a healthy diet helps to keep your immune system strong.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of an infection, it is important to see a doctor right away. Early treatment can help prevent serious health problems and protect your fertility.

At Plan Your Baby, we offer screening for all the above infections as part of our fertility screening packages. So there is no need to wait and wonder whether these infections or others could be impacting your fertility journey. With Plan Your Baby you will receive same day results and online consultations with top fertility experts. Find out more here 

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