Q: I've had unprotected sex in the past. It is possible I could have an STD and not know it? How could this affect my ability to get pregnant?

A: Many sexually transmitted diseases can linger for years without causing any symptoms -- including bacterial infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, and viral infections like hepatitis B, HPV (human papillomavirus), and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It's important to talk to your doctor and get checked out.

If you're concerned, your doctor can perform cultures and blood tests to determine whether you've been exposed to certain STDs. Before you worry too much, you should know that most bacterial infections can be easily treated with antibiotics, so you're better off finding out and treating them as soon as possible. Unchecked, diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause infections that make getting pregnant more difficult. Syphilis can be transferred to a baby during pregnancy, causing dangerous complications and even death. HPV can lead to changes in the cervix that may cause cancer over time, but catching these changes early can significantly lower the chances that the disease would progress that far. And although viruses like hepatitis B and HIV can't be cured, your doctor can monitor your pregnancy and delivery to greatly minimize the risks to your baby's health.

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