The heartache of infertility affects everyone. Both men and women suffer when the dream of trying to conceive a child, doesn’t seem to be coming true. While this occurs, many women will find themselves in many a specialist’s office, in efforts to determine exactly where the problem lies.
How about the guys? It has been shown that 40 to 50 % of couples experiencing infertility will have a male factor, that is a problem with the quality, quantity or movement (also known as motility) of the sperm. Low sperm counts, infection, erectile dysfunction, and other health problems should be evaluated by a physician early in the fertility work up to identify and correct simple problems or identify more serious problems. What is certain however is that male factor can significantly effect decisions couples make regarding their family planning.
If you and your partner have been trying to conceive for six months or more without success, both of you need to be fully evaluated to determine if and where problems exist. If you and your partner have suffered multiple miscarriages or previously failed In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycles, the problem can also be male related.
Failure of implantation (the normal growth of the placenta early in the pregnancy) can result form poor embryo quality, such as a genetic problem. When fertilization occurs when the egg from the female combines with the sperm of the male partner. The sizes are different and the sperm DNA need to swell and then shrink to match up with the DNA of the egg. When this process is successful an embryo can form. If there is a problem with the DNA of either the sperm or the egg, the DNA of the resulting embryo can fail, causing failure of implantation or early miscarriage. (1).
The following are a list of the ‘Top 10’ factors which can affect male fertility.
#1 – Do you smoke? Or use smokeless tobacco?
We all know that smoking and chewing tobacco is unhealthy for a variety of reasons. Now, here’s one more! These products contain nicotine and other harmful substances. Smoking causes vasoconstrictriction which makes blood vessels smaller. This can reduce the amount of blood flow to vital organs and decrease the amount of oxygen and nutrients delivered to them. Stopping these products can improve factors in as little as 3 months.
#2 – How much alcohol do you consume in 1 week?
Be honest. More than 3 to 5 drinks per week can be unhealthy, especially if you are trying to have a baby. Binge drinking can also be unhealthy, which is more than 5 drinks in a day. That may not sound like much, but binge drinking can be considered alcohol abuse and can be a sign of depression. If you are concerned about the amount of alcohol you consume, please discuss this candidly with your health care provider.
#3 – Are you overweight?
Along with the known health risks of being overweight (risk of high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke) being overweight can also effect sperm production. Adipose tissue (fat) can store excess amounts of the female hormone Estrogen. This hormone can be responsible for hormone imbalances causing a decrease in the production of testosterone, the primary male hormone needed for sperm production. Excess amounts of estrogen can give the appearance of man breasts and also interfere with the arousal phase required for erection and ejaculation. If you have any concerns about these problems be sure to address them with your physician.
#4 – Have you had an injury to the groin area? Have you had surgery to the groin area?
Undescended testicles, hernias or varcoceles are conditions that can affect sperm production or sperm transportation. If you have been treated by a urologist in the past it is very important to inform your fertility specialist.
#5 – Do you have health problems that warrant the need for medications?
High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, thyroid problems, arthritis, alcoholism, and drug addiction are some commonly identified problems. The medications to treat these conditions, alone, can be harmful to sperm production. Check with your physician or pharmacist to see if your medication could be decreasing your fertility potential.
#6 – Have you experienced a fever or illness within the last 3 months?
In order for a sperm cell to be mature enough to fertilize an egg it take about 3 months to develop. A fever or illness can affect newly developing sperm. Also, medications such as antibiotics can interfere with sperm production. Tell your physician all of the medications you have taken in the last 3-month, that includes over the counter medications.
#7 – What is your occupation?
Some jobs, by their nature can affect fertility potential. If you are exposed to chemicals or toxins on a regular basis, you may need a male fertility workup with advanced testing to see if these chemical or toxins have affected the DNA in your sperm. Avoiding exposure to known toxins would be important while you are trying to have a baby. Prolonged sitting or jobs that generate a lot of body heat can cause the groin area to be subjected to higher temperatures and be potentially harmful to developing sperm. The scrotum is design to keep the testes protected from extreme temperatures, hot or cold, allowing the testes to be moved closer or further from the body depending on the temperature.
#8 – What are your hobbies or activities?
Some hobbies involve solvents or chemicals. Others such as bicycling or excessive exercising can increase your body’s core temperature. Discuss your hobbies and activities at your fertility consultation.
#9 – Do you use recreational drugs?
Marijuana, cocaine, Methamphetamines or any recreational drug are unhealthy and potentially dangerous. Drug use can also be a sign of excess stress and inappropriate coping. If you are using drugs, stop. If you are having problems with stress, anxiety or depression, talk to your doctor. It is better to take care of yourself now so that you will be healthy, and sober when the new baby arrives.
# 10 – How often do you use hot tubs or take hot baths?
Excessive heat to the groin area has been linked to poor sperm quality. Keep the temperature comfortable. Avoid excessive heat while you are tying to conceive. Loose comfortable clothing (yes, Boxers) can allow the groin area to be less heated.
Remember, this information is being provided to help with Pre-Conception planning. It is intended to offer education but is not designed to replace the assessment of a health care professional.