Does your sperm need an MOT?

Make sure it’s firing on all cylinders

Men don’t have the best reputation for getting their health checked out. It’s not exactly a hot topic of conversation at the bar and it could be seen as ‘weakness’ to open up about infertility among a male tribe. If men feel they have to act tough, it’s no wonder many of them find any excuse not to visit a doctor or clinic for help on infertility issues or think about preparing for IVF. There’s a strong link between fertility and a feeling of virility, so finding out you’re infertile as a man can have a big impact.

The good news is that male infertility can often be treated successfully and it’s fairly straightforward. It’s also much less expensive than treating infertility in women.

Fact is, men do need a fertility MOT. A low sperm count or poor sperm quality affects around one in five men. Less than 20 per cent of sperm that most men produce is good enough to be classed as ‘normal’ under strict World Health Organisation rules.

A kick where it hurts

Worse still, levels of sperm in men keep falling and researchers have yet to pinpoint why, although they do claim that lifestyle and environmental factors are part of the problem, such as smoking, excessive drinking, poor diet, environmental pollutants and some treatments for cancer. Sports injuries (yes, a kick in the balls) can stop the sperm factory working as can surgery, infection, allergies, toxins, a hernia and drugs.

Men who work out and use anabolic steroids to build muscles can be affecting their sperm count. Steroids interfere with the hormone signals needed to produce sperm. It can take up to a year for sperm production to recover once men stop taking the drug.

Men who take testosterone supplements to cure tiredness and low sex drive may also be affecting their sperm count. In a trial in the US, sperm production bounced back when men stopped taking testosterone, but it can take up to six months.

Save time, money and heartache

IVF is stressful and expensive – getting tested to make sure sperm is doing its job before you start IVF reduces time-wasting and cost but it also can also prevent emotional heartache (the most painful cost of all). A semen analysis will show if enough sperm is being produced.

But that doesn’t detect sperm quality, so it’s wiser to go for a sperm DNA test. The cost is generally between £100 and £300. It’s also worth getting checked for chlamydia, as if it’s left untreated it can cause infertility.

Don’t need to leave it to medical experts

Boots the UK high street chemist says its SpermCheck® Fertility test is as accurate as a lab test at identifying low/normal sperm count and gives clear results in the privacy of your own home in just 10 minutes. It costs £29.95

In the UK, one London fertility clinic is offering busy professionals a one-stop sperm test that takes an hour for £95.

How to improve your sperm

Top quality sperm is big business. Take a look inside one of the world’s largest sperm banks

How a man’s infertility is treated

A treatment with a high IVF success rate is ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). A single healthy sperm is chosen and injected in the lab directly into an egg. This overcomes problems where sperm are poor swimmers or find it difficult to penetrate the egg’s surface. Success rates are very good.

If no sperm is ejaculated, there may be blockages that can be treated or immature sperm can be taken and matured in the lab until it’s ready, then injected into the egg. If no sperm is produced at all, one option is to talk to your doctor and look at using donor sperm. This can be a difficult decision and infertility can have a stressful impact on relationships and intimacy. Don’t suffer in silence – counselling can be a great help. In the UK, the professional association for infertility counsellors and counselling is BICA  or talk to your doctor.

Get a Life is a ‘his and hers’ account of one couple’s IVF journey. It’s highly readable and takes the science and the fear out of the IVF process, explaining what you actually need to know and what you don’t.

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