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What men need to know about their fertility

We mustn’t forget that male fertility is equally as important as women’s - and when it comes to fertility problems men are a significant cause in nearly half of all cases. In fact, in 15 percent of couples it will be solely be a male fertility problem, and in 25 percent there will be a problem in both partners.

While infertility symptoms can be easier to recognise in women, such as abnormal or irregular periods, in most cases of male infertility there are no obvious signs.

Mr Jonathan W A Ramsay, Consultant Urologist & Andrologist, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and an expert speaker at The Fertility Show, discusses some of the most important things that every man needs to know about his fertility.

1. Fertility struggles affect men and women – a common misconception of infertility is that it just affects women. In fact, men are found to be responsible for 15% of infertility cases and contribute to 50% of cases overall. Male infertility seems to still have a stigma attached to it and there is a reluctance around men in seeking help and undergoing tests from a medical specialist.

2. Obesity, diet, smoking and alcohol – each of these can significantly affect fertility, but often all four of these “modern” habits combine to damage both sperm production and sperm quality

3. The age factor – similarly with women, male fertility declines with age. Unlike women who see a rapid decline around the age of 35, men typically experience a more gradual decline due to a decrease in testosterone and a lower quantity and quality of sperm. The age of a man has also been linked to increased risk for miscarriage, passing on genetic problems and even some birth defects.

4. Genetic conditions make it harder to conceive –  for men with a genetic cause for infertility, the number of sperm they are producing are usually very small. In many cases, these sperm can be used to fertilise a woman’s eggs in a fertility clinic using Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ISI). Genetic conditions can include, Klinefelter Syndrome which occurs when a man inherits an extra “X” chromosome, giving him XXY sex chromosomes instead of the XY which are seen in the typical male.

5, Toxic chemicals can be damaging – working near toxic chemicals can impact fertility and decrease the health of the sperm. Painters, decorators and farmers have all been discovered to be at risk in a decrease in their fertility. If you have to work around toxic chemicals or in high heat conditions, such as a chef, then you should talk to your doctor to see if you can protect yourself better.

6. Sexually transmitted infections can lead to infertility –STIs can lead to infertility if they are not taken care of quickly. When left untreated it can lead to scar tissue in the male reproductive tract which in turn makes semen transfer ineffectively or not at all. If you notice the symptoms of an STI then see your doctor right away. You may also have potentially passed an STI onto a female partner and this will also affect her fertility. However, we do often find signs of mild infection and inflammation which does not amount to a known STI, so don’t worry! Simple treatment can improve sperm quality, without the stigma associated with STIs. 

7. Common conditions – about 12% of men are born with a collection of enlarged veins around a testicle, this is called a varicocele, and can impair sperm production. It is not dangerous, but sometimes treatment causes better sperm production.

8. You are not alone – out of the 1 in 6 couples who have fertility issues, 50% of these are due to the male partner. Many men struggle to come to terms with the fact that they are causing fertility problems and don’t seek help from a fertility specialist or a support group. 

Jonathan Ramsay will be speaking on the ‘All about men’ panel on the Q&A Stage at The Fertility Show with Professor Allan Pacey and Kevin McEleny, taking place on Sunday 5th from 14.00 – 14.40.