There’s a common misconception that fertility is a woman’s issue, but the fact is men are as crucial to conception as they are to the inability to conceive. According to statistics from the Government of Canada, three out of 10 cases of infertility are due to problems deriving from the man, while most fertility doctors say that up to one-third of their practice is exclusively made up of men experiencing fertility issues.
But while women can exhibit signs or be diagnosed with conditions that could indicate future fertility problems — irregular or very painful periods, or endometriosis, for example — most men aren’t aware of any issues until they try to conceive. At that point, a semen analysis is conducted to determine the shape, volume and motility of sperm, the three major factors that determine its health.
The good news is with interventions including surgical and non-surgical procedures, medications and lifestyle changes, male infertility doesn’t mean conception is out of the question.
“Most cases of male infertility can still result in a pregnancy even if nothing can be done to improve the situation,” says Dr. Victor Chow, clinical associate professor in the Department of Urologic Sciences at the University of British Columbia. “Even in severe cases of male infertility, we can usually find small numbers of sperm. Given the advances in in vitro fertilization (IVF), we only need one sperm for every female egg.”
In roughly 25 per cent of the cases, there is no identifiable reason for low sperm count. For the rest, it can be chalked up to a number of health issues, including testicular injuries, infections from childhood (like mumps), chemotherapy and radiation, and operations like hernia surgery.
“The hernia and the spermadic cord are in the same area,” explains Dr. Ken Cadesky, medical director of Trio Fertility in Toronto. “If a surgeon isn’t careful, they can accidentally tie off the area in surgery.”
Men who suffer from cystic fibrosis are also genetically prone to have a lower sperm count because part of that gene can code them for a condition that hinders/halts the development of the system responsible for transporting sperm from the testes to the urethra.
But much like any other bodily function, healthy sperm depends on healthy lifestyle choices.
“Sperm is on a three-month assembly line from its development in the testicles to when it’s mature, and any insult over that three-month period can have an impact on it,” Cadesky says.
For that reason, vices like smoking, excessive drinking and drug use are all factors that can significantly impact fertility.
“One cigarette can be as bad as 50,” he warns. “Once you stop smoking, regardless of how little or how much you smoked, it still takes three months to get full improvement.”
Prescription drugs can also wreck havoc on sperm. Steroids and hormones like testosterone can wipe out sperm temporarily. And to further vilify vanity in men looking to conceive, hair growth drugs like Propecia can also affect sperm quality.
Viagra, on the other hand, can be helpful. Aside from the obvious benefit of correcting erectile dysfunction, there are some studies that show it produces more semen, Cadesky says. It may not result in a better sperm count, but it does boost volume, which gives doctors a larger total sample to work with if a couple is undergoing IVF.
Source: Global News
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