Does chlamydia affect fertility?

By: Jennifer Sellers

Under a microscope, chlamydia cells may not seem dangerous. But in a woman's body, alone, they can damage the fallopian tubes and may lead to pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID).
Under a microscope, chlamydia cells may not seem dangerous. But in a woman's body, alone, they can damage the fallopian tubes and may lead to pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID).
Hemera/Thinkstock

It might not get as much press as herpes or human papilloma virus (HPV), but chlamydia is an extremely widespread sexually transmitted disease (STD). In fact, it's the most common STD in the U.S., affecting almost 3 million Americans [source: Morris]. A lot of people who get chlamydia -- including about 75 percent of infected women -- never experience symptoms. This might make it seem like an innocuous disease. But when it comes to fertility, chlamydia is anything but harmless.

An untreated chlamydia infection can affect a woman's ability to conceive. A common way it prevents pregnancy is by causing blockages and scar tissue development in and around the fallopian tubes. This type of fallopian-tube damage can sometimes be corrected, but surgical intervention can be invasive and carries risks.

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The ideal way to prevent chlamydia-related infertility is to treat the infection as soon as possible, which can be done with antibiotics. Your partner should also be tested -- and treated, if necessary -- for chlamydia. This will decrease your odds of getting repeated infections that can raise your infertility risk.

We'll further explore fallopian tube dysfunction related to chlamydia on the next page. Keep reading to find out more.

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Is there a link between PID and chlamydia?

On the previous page we discussed the damage chlamydia can do to a woman's fallopian tubes. This harm is usually caused when the disease leads to a condition known as pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID).

PID is caused by bacterial infection. While it's possible that this type of infection can occur from any number of sources, most cases are caused by chlamydia or gonorrhea [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

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PID is a painful condition that can affect not only a woman's fallopian tubes, but also her uterus, which means in addition to infertility, it also has the potential to create problems with pregnancy. PID can complicate pregnancy in the womb, and it can also lead to ectopic pregnancy -- an unviable and life-threatening pregnancy that occurs when a fetus begins developing outside the womb.

The damage from PID, which usually results in scar tissue forming in or around the fallopian tubes, creates infertility by either keeping an egg from being fertilized by sperm or by preventing fertilized eggs from entering the uterus. These types of infertility can occur in 10 to 15 percent of women who have the disorder [source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].

The primary symptoms of PID are pelvic or abdominal pain, intermittent fever and abnormal vaginal discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor right away. Prompt treatment can reduce the odds of multiple PID infections.

If PID is linked to chlamydia, is it possible that endometriosis is as well? Find out on the next page.

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Can chlamydia cause endometriosis?

Like PID, endometriosis is a condition that causes pelvic pain and can lead to infertility. Unlike PID, though, endometriosis isn't known to be caused by chlamydia [source: Gazvani, et. al]. The most recognized cause of endometriosis is a condition known as retrograde menstruation. In retrograde menstruation, blood with endometrial cells can travel into the abdominal cavity rather than out of the body, which is the normal process of menstruation. It's also possible that parts of a woman's abdominal lining can convert to endometrial tissue. It's currently unknown why this happen.

If you're experiencing pelvic pain and infertility, but you're unsure whether you have PID or endometriosis -- or something else altogether -- you should be evaluated by your physician. However, reviewing a checklist of endometriosis symptoms may help you get an idea of whether or not it's the condition you're dealing with:

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  • painful periods
  • painful intercourse
  • painful bowel movements or urination
  • heavy menstrual bleeding
  • bleeding between periods
  • fatigue
  • digestive upset

Keep reading for lots more information on fertility and reproductive health.

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Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) -- Fact Sheet." Sept. 28, 2011. (July 1, 2012) http://www.cdc.gov/std/PID/STDFact-PID.htm
  • Gazvani, R; Coyne, L; Anttila, T; Saikku, P; Paavonen, J; and Templeton, A. "Antibodies to Chlamydia trachomatis in serum and peritoneal fluid of women with endometriosis." Human Fertility. March 14, 2011. (July 1, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21466268
  • King, Warren. "Chlamydia, the cruel fertility thief." Seattle Times. Nov. 17, 2004. (July 1, 2012) http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/health/2002092283_healthstd17.html
  • Mayo Clinic. "Endometriosis -- Causes." Sept. 11, 2010. (July 1, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/endometriosis/DS00289/DSECTION=causes
  • Morris, Randy. "Chlamydia and Infertility." IVFI. Jan. 15, 2010. (July 1, 2012) http://www.ivf1.com/chlamydia-infertility/
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Endometriosis." July 25, 2011. (July 1, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001913/
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)." Sept. 12, 2011. (July 1, 2012) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001890/