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Male infertility: Most often, the fix is easy and inexpensive

Roughly 15 percent of couples have difficulty becoming pregnant. M Health specialists have a long history of diagnosing and fixing the problems.
University of Minnesota Health Urologic Surgeon Joshua Bodie, MD, believes practicing healthy lifestyle habits—like eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding excess alcohol or caffeine and getting adequate sleep—can boost a man’s potential fertility.

What do laptop computers and hot tubs have in common with birth control pills and intrauterine devices?

All four can be a barrier to pregnancy.

The fact that most people don’t think of computers and hot tubs as “birth control” devices helps explain why so many men show up in the office of University of Minnesota Health Urologic Surgeon Joshua Bodie, MD.

About 15 percent of couples have difficulty becoming pregnant, Bodie said. Of those couples, the problem originates with the man about a third of the time, the woman in about a third of the cases, and with both parties in the other third.

While infertility can be a symptom of something more serious, for males, the most common problem is varicose veins (varicoceles) above the testicles. Varicoceles may warm up the scrotum and damage sperm quality and motility. When medical treatment is required, Bodie said, the procedure isn’t invasive. Typically, the veins can be repaired with a one-inch incision, or through interventional radiology.

First, though, University of Health physicians evaluate the patients’ sperm. If it seems relatively healthy, “we may just have them continue to try on their own,” Bodie said. If there’s a problem with hormone levels, sometimes prescription medications can be used to “fine tune” the level of these hormones and stimulate the patient's reproductive system.

Environmental and lifestyle factors can affect male fertility, Bodie added, which brings us back to the laptop and those hot tubs. The testicles sit outside the male’s body to keep sperm at an optimal temperature (which is a few degrees below the rest of the body), but they can only do so much when regularly submerged in hot water or exposed to a warm computer in one’s lap.

When there’s a problem, “these behaviors can make a difference,” Bodie said.

Practicing healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, avoiding too much alcohol or caffeine and getting enough sleep, can boost a man’s potential fertility, Bodie said. It may take as long as three months for lifestyle changes to have affect sperm health, Bodie added.

But above all, Bodie encourages patients to refrain from smoking. Sperm cells are rapidly dividing cells, and respond quickly to environmental toxins. Marijuana is even worse, because heavy marijuana use can affect how hormones signal the testicles, Bodie said. Smokers also have a higher risk of miscarriages and children with birth defects.

No matter the issue, Bodie and his fellow urologic surgeons are well positioned to find the problem and fix it. 

University of Minnesota Health urologic surgeons specialize in minimally invasive surgery, as well as vasectomies and vasectomy reversals. University of Minnesota Health Endocrinologist James Bruce Redmon, MD, is a recognized expert on rare or complex hormonal issues. The University of Minnesota also developed the first in vitro fertilization (IVF) program in the state in 1983.

Beyond all that, Bodie said, M Health takes pride in a team approach. Our fertility physicians specializing in male infertility work closely with experts on female infertility.