Dr. Werthman: Fertility Isn’t a “Chick Thing”
In my 20-plus year medical career, if I had to choose the most common misconception I’ve heard from patients and yes, even some highly respected members of the medical community, it’s that fertility – or problems with it, rather, is solely a “woman’s issue.” From inconsistent menstrual cycles to advanced reproductive age, women have historically borne (no pun intended) the brunt of the burden and sadly the shame, when they and their male partners are unable to conceive. But all of that is changing and the man’s significant contribution to the conception equation is finally getting the attention it deserves.
In nearly half of all cases where a couple has had trouble conceiving, a male-factor fertility problem is the cause. Does that surprise you? When I deliver this information to most audiences, they’re shocked. But it’s true. Sperm are half the fertility equation, right? So how they “perform” in terms of getting to the woman’s egg and then fertilizing it is extremely important. Scientific studies have now shown that sperm are highly susceptible to damage that reduces their effectiveness. Too much time in a hot tub and smoking, among other lifestyle factors, can seriously harm sperm quality and production, making it more difficult for couples to have a baby. Sometimes, the cause of the man’s reproductive concern is more complicated. Low sperm count or other sperm abnormality caused by a varicocele (varicose vein) or hormone issue, no sperm (a condition known as azoospermia), and interest in a vasectomy reversal, for example, are all conditions that require further evaluation and treatment by a male fertility expert. Sometimes men have normal amounts of sperm but the DNA inside the sperm is damaged and this can lead to decreased pregnancy rates increased miscarriage rates. Luckily, most of these issues are correctable but they need to first be identified.
Of course, the crucial education about male fertility is still dwarfed by comparison to the loads of female fertility information located within the medical community and online. It’s my mission to change that, or at least to level the field. I’ve seen too many couples walk into my office heartbroken because they’ve spent their life savings on fertility treatments for the woman, and with no baby to show for it. When I ask them if the male partner has been tested to see whether he might be the cause of the concerns, the response is usually that they didn’t even know they were supposed to get him checked out…until they dug deeper and found me.
If you or a loved one has been trying to conceive for a year or more, please be sure to have both partners medically evaluated to determine the causes that might be contributing to the infertility. For the best results, the male partner should be examined by a physician who specializes in male fertility. Seeking out an expert opinion can make all the difference in the world and can help couples begin that joyful parenthood journey with less heartache, less financial strain and most importantly – much sooner.