Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Pregnancy
For women who become infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), taking care of their overall health quickly becomes a high priority. However, these women must be even more vigilant once they become pregnant, as certain STDs may become life threatening during pregnancy, especially for a fetus. On the other hand, with proper treatment, serious risks can be avoided. It is suspected that over 1 million pregnant American women are currently infected with a sexually transmitted disease.
What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
A sexually transmitted disease is any disease that is passed through sexual contact- most commonly through vaginal, anal or oral sex. STDs are serious health conditions that should always be treated under the supervision of a health care professional. Some common STDs include:
- genital warts caused by the human papilloma virus or HPV
- Hepatitis B
Symptoms of STDs
Not all sexually transmitted diseases are associated with any obvious symptoms, and some may even mimic certain pregnancy symptoms, which is why routine testing even in the absence of any STD symptoms ï¿½ should be performed. In any case, there are certain STD signs women should be aware of, including:
- Lesions in the area of the mouth, anus, penis or vagina
- Swelling or redness near the penis or vagina
- Skin Rash
- Painful urination
- Weight loss
- Dull constant pain, fever, chills or night sweats
- Yellowing of the skin
- Vaginal bleeding
- Painful intercourse
- Severe itching
What Effects Can STDs Have on My Baby?
Different STDs pose different health risks for pregnant women and their babies. Here is a list of some of the more common STDs and the threats they pose to a healthy pregnancy:
- Herpes/Genital Herpes: Herpes is one of the most common STDs a pregnant woman can be infected with; fortunately, however, herpes do not pose any major risks to a developing fetus. However, any lesions that are exposed near the vaginal opening during delivery could cause the disease to be passed on to the infant. That is why many women with herpes or other genital warts choose to deliver via a cesarean section.
- Chlamydia: For mothers affected by chlamydia, you should be aware that you are at an increased risk of miscarriage and preterm delivery. Furthermore, if the baby is exposed to the disease during delivery, he or she could be at risk for eye infections or pneumonia.
- HPV: Genital warts resulting from HPV usually take the form of itchy cauliflower-like clusters. These warts may enlarge during pregnancy due to hormones. Unlike some other STDs, treatment for HPV will likely be postponed until after giving birth. If the warts are large enough, however, they could present an obstacle to delivery, resulting in a cesarean section.
- Syphilis: Because syphilis is a viral infection, it can be easily passed along from mother to child, which can pose a variety of very serious risks ï¿½ including fatality. Babies that do survive are often born prematurely and tend to have birth defects affecting their brain, eyes, ears, skin, heart and bones.
- Gonorrhea: If gonorrhea is contracted during pregnancy it will likely become noticeable in the form of vaginal discharge and a burning sensation during urination. Left untreated, pregnant women with gonorrhea are at an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth. If the infection is present at the time of birth the baby may be born blind, or with a joint or blood infection.
- HIV/AIDS: Due to recent medical advancements in HIV/AIDS research, transmission of HIV/AIDS from mother to child has become almost completely preventable. That said, without treatment it is likely the baby will be born with the virus.
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is disease that affects the liver, and as such it can be passed to the baby through the placenta during pregnancy as well as childbirth. Women with hepatitis B are also more likely to give birth prematurely. With screening and vaccines now available, however, it is hoped that the disease will soon become a thing of the past.
- Trichomoniasis: Symptoms of trichomoniasis include yellowish vaginal discharge and painful sex and urination. Having this STD during pregnancy can increase your risk of preterm birth and, more rarely, cause the newborn to contract the disease during delivery.
Other harmful effects of STDs in babies may include stillbirth, neurological damage (such as brain damage or lack of coordination in body movements), deafness, acute hepatitis, meningitis, and chronic liver disease.
How Can STDs be Treated During Pregnancy?
Treatment for STDs generally includes a combination of medications, including antiviral pills and antibiotics. Treatment is especially promising for bacterial infections such as herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and Chlamydia, as these can almost always be cured through the use of antibiotics. Recently, natural cures for herpes have become popular as well.
Certain diseases may require postponed treatment due to possible risks treatment may pose to the fetus, as is the case for HPV (genital warts).
But as is the case with any STD, the best treatment is prevention, so be sure to undergo routine screening for STDs and always practice safe sex. For more information on STDs, check out this guide provided by epigee.org.