Lyme Disease can impact your sexual and reproductive health. Here’s what to know.
What do you know about Lyme Disease (other than the fact that you should be checking yourself for ticks on the regular)? You might know that Lyme is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks, and that early symptoms of the disease include fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain, and, in some cases, a rash in the shape of a bull’s eye. If you’re diagnosed early, you can be treated with antibiotics and recover fully. If you’re not treated, however, and often Lyme is misdiagnosed because it looks like a lot of other conditions, there can be complications, such as memory problems, palsy, and chronic joint inflammation. Folks who are treated for Lyme can also have symptoms after treatment, which is known as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.
It turns out that Lyme, especially if it’s chronically occurring, can also impact your sexual and reproductive health. In 2014, research published in the Journal of Investigative Medicine suggested that Lyme can be transmitted sexually from person to person. In particular, women with Lyme regularly have bacteria that causes the disease in their vagina secretions, whereas men are less consistent in secreting Lyme bacteria in their semen. “I inform my patients that it is possible Lyme disease could be sexually transmitted as the bacteria has been found in sexual fluids,” said Dr. Christine Green, a Lyme Disease practitioner in California. “But I inform them that proving transmission has not been done, possibly because it is not sexually transmitted or possibly because those studies are expensive, controversial or/and we do not have an agreed upon test that confirms active Lyme.”
Like other chronic illnesses, Lyme can complicate your sex life in various ways, particularly because of the symptoms of fatigue, weakness, and pain that accompany it.
“Sexual dysfunction seems to be a very common occurrence for those with Lyme disease, yet no one seems to want to admit to it, or talk about it with their doctors,” noted Kim, a blogger who chronicles her experiences with Lyme at Kimmie Cakes Kicks Lyme. Folks with Lyme often report a lack of interest in sex, which is likely the result of the fact that Lyme impacts the body’s nervous system, as well as the endocrine system, where some hormones are produced. Margaret, 52, reported that her libido did return after she began taking a testosterone cream, often prescribed by doctors for both men and women with Lyme.
Surprisingly, Lyme doesn’t necessarily have to affect fertility, although the compromising of one’s immune system can impact your ability to sustain a pregnancy. Menstrual irregularity is also reported in half of Lyme patients, which can also make getting pregnant tricky. (Super heavy periods, migraines, and terrible cramps are also common in those with Lyme.)
It’s also possible, although relatively unlikely, to transmit the disease in utero. The CDC recommends that women with Lyme continue to be treated with antibiotics throughout pregnancy in order to avoid passing it on to the fetus. Danielle Phillipp waited until she was essentially symptom free to get pregnant. “If you are still having severe Lyme symptoms, it probably isn’t a good idea to try and get pregnant,” she wrote. “The way I see it is, if your body is full of infection, it will be that much harder to fight it off from the baby.” Because stress is a huge part of both parenting and negotiating Lyme, taking care of your mental health before, during and after pregnancy is also important. While many women with Lyme do go on to have successful pregnancies, it’s vital to remember that the disease is different for everyone, and that consulting with a Lyme Literate Doctor is an important part of navigating fertility and pregnancy with the disease.