Illness

Infections that go untreated can cause structural damage or negatively affect the healthy production of sperm. In addition, some general health conditions and illnesses include sterility as a possible symptom or side effect. In some cases the effect of illnesses or diseases can be temporary, and sperm function can be restored over time.

Cancer

Cancer is a medical condition that affects many aspects of a man’s life. Unfortunately, cancer can also impact fertility in several ways:

  • Chemotherapy and radiation can damage and destroy the cells in the reproductive system.
  • Sterility is a possible side effect of many cancer-fighting drugs.
  • Cancer treatment may require the removal of reproductive organs, resulting in a compromised reproductive system.

On a positive note, healthcare providers and the medical community as a whole are recognizing more and more the concerns cancer patients often have about preserving fertility. Many cancer patients are now able to plan ahead by collecting and storing sperm by cryopreservation (freezing) prior to treatments.

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Diseases

Infertility can be an unfortunate side effect of many health conditions or diseases, including diabetes, cystic fibrosis and mumps.

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Epididymitis

If infected, the epididymis (where sperm is stored) can malfunction and corrupt sperm. Epididymitis can cause the testicles to swell during infection, and it is sometimes painful. Epididymitis is most commonly caused by a bacterial infection, including STIs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia. Antibiotic treatment can usually eradicate a bacterial infection, but some strains have become resistant to drugs.

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Klinefelter’s Syndrome

A chromosomal disorder in men, Klinefelter’s Syndrome is characterized by no or low sperm count in the semen. An extra X chromosome (XXY instead of XY) causes Klinefelter's. In some men with azoospermia, sperm is still produced in certain small areas of the testes and can be retrieved with a testicular biopsy. However, this is an inherited condition and these patients should consult with a genetic counselor prior to proceeding with reproduction, since there is a high probability that some of the sperm will pass along an extra X chromosome. Chromosomal testing of the embryos or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is one option to enable these couples to have healthy children.

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Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Characterized by a stinging pain during urination, UTIs can usually be treated with antibiotics, similar to epididymitis. Infections can affect how sperm moves through the male reproductive tract, in this case, the urethra.

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Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

Sexually transmitted Infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, often result in infertility in men. Consequences of STIs can include scarring and blocking of sperm passage.

The risk of infertility due to an STI is high if left untreated but at least men have the advantage of occasionally seeing symptoms. Many STIs, such as chlamydia, may not show any symptoms in women. Transmission of these STIs to the female partner is a major concern.

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