Behind the Scenes: Maximizing Male Fertility
What Can Stand in the Way of Fertility?
- Lack of Physical Structures or Blockages—Some men are born without a vas deferens or with tubal blockages. These conditions may be treated with surgery.
- Varicocele—The development of a varicocele, or varicose veins in the scrotum, which occurs in nearly 20% of men, can sometimes affect sperm production. Removing the veins may boost fertility, though the evidence favoring surgery remains incomplete.
- Retrograde Ejaculation—A condition in which semen travels in the wrong direction back into the bladder rather than being released through the penis. This can be caused by prostate and other types of surgery in the pelvic area. Drugs that close the opening from the urethra to the bladder can alleviate this problem.
- Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis—These conditions can impair the nerves that promote normal ejaculation.
- Infections—Urinary tract, prostate, or tubal infections can cause blockages that can be treated by antibiotics. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are sexually transmitted infections that can scar the epididymis; however, these scars can be treated with microsurgery.
Maintaining Your Fertility
- Sports Injuries—Take care to protect your testicles while playing sports. If a sport requires a cup, it is a good idea to wear one. It is not unheard of for men to be hit in the testicles with a golf ball or a tennis ball, therefore, it makes good sense to wear a cup whenever you participate in physical activity.
- Exposure to Chemicals—Herbicides and pesticides can affect fertility. If you use them in your garden, be sure to follow instructions carefully and take appropriate precautions. Pesticide residues in food, however, have not been shown to affect fertility.
- Radiation—Men who are regularly exposed to radiation such as lab technicians may experience fertility problems. If you have x-rays anywhere near the testicles, be sure to have the technician shield your groin area with a lead blanket. The radiation from computer or television screens has not been found to be a problem.
- Smoking—A review of the literature indicates that cigarette smoking is associated with modest reductions in semen quality including number of sperm and motility.
- Obesity—Obesity has been cited as a risk factor for male infertility in studies that looked at couples attempting to conceive.
- Prescription Medications—Various drugs have been found to affect the number or appearance of sperm in animals and occasionally in humans:
American Urological Association Foundation http://www.urologyhealth.org
American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor http://familydoctor.org
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Varicocele. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated March 15, 2013. Accessed March 29, 2013.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 04/2013 -
- Update Date: 03/29/2013 -