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Reproductive consequences of sexually transmitted infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are fairly common in adolescents, but can occur in women and men of all age groups. Many STIs have serious consequences to reproductive and long term health. Hence if an STI is suspected, a prompt diagnosis should be made and appropriate treatment instituted immediately to negate potential long term complications. Sexual infections are caused by both bacterial and viral organisms, and include gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV, syphilis and many other types of infections.

If you suspect you have an STI, you shouldn’t waste any time wondering what to do. You should go straight to a sexual and reproductive health specialist, or to a gynecologist, or indeed to general practitioner and get a thorough assessment. The symptoms you report will guide how you get examined and what will be tested. Some STIs will present with an abnormal vaginal discharge, or some blistering or sores on the genital area. Unfortunately, some infections like chlamydia will remain silent, without any symptoms, and may be diagnosed later than would be ideal.

Specific testing may include bacterial swabs, urine testing, blood tests and imaging in certain cases. Rapid testing is available for many STIs, giving instant results. As soon as the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment must be started immediately. Your symptoms may resolve within days of starting treatment, but you must complete the whole recommended duration of treatment to ensure a cure. Some infections like HIV will require long term treatment and follow up. A specific STI diagnosis must trigger efforts to identify your recent sexual contacts so they also get tested and treated appropriately. This is a key strategy to reduce ongoing transmission of STIs.

Reproductive consequences of STIs are a major concern for those desiring future child bearing. Infections like chlamydia and gonorrhea can irreversibly damage fallopian tubes in women, and cause blockage of sperms transport in men. If this happens, spontaneous conception will not be possible, necessitating major interventions like surgery or assisted conception. Young women and men with a history of STIs should therefore wait no longer than six months prior to seeking help, if conception hasn’t occurred within that timeframe.

It goes without saying that prevention is the only best way of avoiding STIs. Condoms are an effective strategy for prevention, so long as they are used correctly and with every sexual contact with an individual of unknown sexual health status. Unprotected sex in monogamous relationships, where both partners are uninfected, is of course a safe strategy. Celibacy is another option, but is hardly practical for most mortals. Sex education is also key to safe sex habits, especially for adolescents.

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