Health Watch -- Pregnancy and STDs

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If you're an expectant mother, ignoring symptoms of a sexually transmitted disease can harm more than you: your unborn baby can be at risk for developmental problems if the disease goes untreated.

The number of sexually transmitted diseases is on the rise - including almost 2 million pregnant women each year who often don't realize they're infected. For that reason, early testing and prenatal care is of utmost importance, says Dr. Jeanne Sheffield, a gynecologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. Because a lot of STDs are asymptomatic, women may have an STD and not know it, she says.

STDs can have serious consequences, including causing cervical and other cancers, chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis in pregnant women, as well as early onset of labor and premature rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby. Harmful effects on the baby can include stillbirth, low birth weight, neurological damage, congenital abnormalities, acute hepatitis, meningitis and liver disease.

Pregnant women should be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, HIV and syphilis, she says. Treatment can significantly decrease risks to unborn babies.

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Feb. 2004

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