Advance with MUSC Health

5 Things This Gynecologist Wants You to Know About STIs & Their Impact on Women’s Health

Advance With MUSC Health
January 18, 2022
Dr. Gweneth Lazenby

In the United States, the number of cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), specifically Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, has been increasing. In 2019, more than 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

Sexually transmitted infections can have a significant impact on people’s health, says Dr. Gweneth Lazenby, an MUSC Women’s Health obstetrician and gynecologist. While many people don’t always experience disease symptoms, untreated STIs can increase the risk of HIV infection, infertility, tubal pregnancy, and newborn complications.

That’s why Dr. Lazenby wants to share a few things everyone should know about STIs, including ways and reasons to prevent them.

  1. Young women (under 25) are most at risk of Chlamydia infection and should be screened every year.

    Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the US, with more than 1,808,703 chlamydia trachomatis infections reported to the CDC in 2019. The CDC also reports that up to 70% of women with chlamydial infections do not have symptoms, making screening at-risk persons essential.

  2. Women who contract Chlamydia or gonorrhea are at risk for developing infertility, tubal pregnancy, and/or chronic pelvic pain.

    If left untreated, Chlamydia and gonorrhea infections increase the risks of pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and neonatal infections. Again, screening pregnant people and treating infections is the best way to prevent sickness for the mother and newborns.

  3. Chlamydia and gonorrhea during pregnancy can result in preterm birth and cause neonatal infections.

    Preterm birth (born before 37 weeks) is the leading cause of newborn complications and death worldwide. One recent study found infections with gonorrhea and syphilis to be strongly associated with very preterm births, meaning birth before 32 weeks of pregnancy.

  4. Syphilis infection before or during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, and birth defects. Almost 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis can be stillborn or die from the infection as a newborn.

    A baby born with syphilis can experience complications of infection-causing blindness or deafness, brain inflammation, or skin rashes. Fortunately, syphilis can be treated with penicillin.

  5. HIV is now a preventable infection and women at risk for HIV should discuss PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) with their health care provider.

    While there’s currently no cure for HIV/AIDS, it is preventable and there are revolutionary medications available that can control HIV and prevent complications. Early diagnosis and treatment of HIV can help people affected live long and healthy lives.

Sexually transmitted infections are common and most can be treated. Get screened!

To see an MUSC Women’s Health provider, call 843-792-5300 or schedule an appointment here.

Dr. Gweneth Lazenby is an MUSC Health Women’s Care obstetrician and gynecologist providing comprehensive sexual health services. Her special interests include reproductive infectious diseases, HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, other STIs, and vaginitis.