A varicocele is an abnormally enlarged and twisted (varicose) vein in the spermatic cord that connects to the testicle. Varicoceles are found in about15% of all men and in about 40% of infertile men, although it is not clear how much they affect fertility or by what mechanisms. They can raise testicular temperature, which may have effects on sperm production, movement, and shape.
Age-related sperm changes in men are not abrupt, but are a gradual process. Aging can adversely affect sperm counts and sperm motility (the sperm's ability to swim quickly and move in a straight line). The genetic quality of sperm declines as a man ages.
Repeated Chlamydia trachomatis or gonorrhea infections are most often associated with male infertility. Such infections can cause scarring and block sperm passage. Human papilloma viruses, the cause of genital warts, may also impair sperm function.
Nearly any major physical or mental stress can temporarily reduce sperm count. Some common conditions that lower sperm count, temporarily in nearly all cases, include:
Emotional Stress. Stress may interfere with certain hormones involved with sperm production.
Testicular Overheating. Overheating, such as from high fevers, saunas, and hot tubs, may temporarily lower sperm count.
Substance Abuse. Cocaine or heavy marijuana use can temporarily reduce the number and quality of sperm. Sperm actually have receptors for certain compounds in marijuana that may impair the sperm's ability to swim and also inhibit their ability to penetrate the egg. Anabolic steroid use can shrink testicles and decrease sperm production. Heavy drinking may also impair fertility.
Smoking. Cigarette smoking may affect sperm quality.
Bicycling. Bicycling has been linked to impotence in men and also may affect fertility. Pressure from the bike seat may damage blood vessels and nerves that are responsible for erections. Mountain biking, which involves riding on off-road terrain, exposes the perineum (the region between the scrotum and the anus) to more extreme shocks and vibrations and increases the risk for injuries to the scrotum. A padded or contoured bike seat set at the proper height and angle can help reduce this risk.
Occupational or other long-term exposure to certain types of toxins and chemicals (such as herbicides and pesticides)may reduce sperm count by either affecting testicular function or altering hormone systems. Estrogen-like and hormone-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A, phthalates, and organochlorines are particular potential concerns. Chronic exposure to heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, or arsenic may affect sperm quality. . At this time, there is no strong evidence supporting a serious harmful effect on fertility in men who have normal limited exposure to these chemicals.
Medical conditions that can affect male fertility include any severe injury or major surgery, diabetes, HIV, thyroid disease, Cushing syndrome, heart attack, liver or kidney failure, and chronic anemia. Certain types of medications can impair sperm production.
Infections in the Urinary Tract or Genitals. Infections that may affect fertility include prostatitis (inflammation in the prostate gland), orchitis (in the testicle), semino-vesculitis (in the glands that produce semen), or urethritis (in the urethra), perhaps by altering sperm motility. Even after successful antibiotic treatment, infections in the testes may leave scar tissue that blocks the epididymis.
Cancer and Its Treatments. Birth rates among cancer survivors are only 40 - 85% of normal rates. Certain cancers, particularly testicular cancer, impair sperm production, often severely. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage sperm quality and quantity, causing infertility. The closer radiation treatments are to reproductive organs, the higher the risk for infertility.
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