You’re handed yet another health questionnaire from your OB/GYN asking, what seems like, every intimate detail of your life. You eventually find yourself rushing through the overwhelming packet, underestimating how crucial health history and habits are when it comes to infertility diagnosis and treatment. For women and men who are trying to conceive, telling white lies about the amount of alcohol and cigarettes they consume, for example, can both impact fertility as well as slow down the fertility process and make a challenging situation even more difficult.
Read below the top five white lies that impact fertility and can make identifying a potential fertility problem more difficult for your doctor.
Q: How often do you drink alcohol during the week?
A: It’s only wine, and just with dinner. I’m not binge drinking, really. Alcohol has clear effects on fertility. In fact, women who consume two or more drinks a day or binge drink (five or more drinks at a time) not only can cause serious harm to a developing fetus but also can negatively affect their chance of conceiving.
As for men, you’re not in the clear when it comes to alcohol either. Excessive alcohol in men also affects fertility. Men who drink large quantities of alcohol (five or more drinks) may have lowered testosterone levels and reduced sperm quality and quantity. Fortunately, reducing the amount of alcohol a man drinks can quickly reverse the side effects seen in sperm.
Q: Are you a smoker? If so, how much do you smoke?
A: I’m really only a social smoker. Nothing that’s a habit. When compared to non-smokers, those who smoke can experience up to a 54 percent higher chance that conception will take a year or longer. The delay in conception correlates to the daily quantity of cigarettes smoked.
In women, studies have shown fertility treatment is greatly affected when the female partner smokes. The following are side effects from smoking:
– Decreased number of eggs available for retrieval
– Increased number of cancelled treatment cycles
– Decreased response to ovarian stimulation medications
Smoking can also impact fertility in men. It can affect a man’s sperm quality including sperm count, morphology (sperm shape), and motility (how sperm move). While the effects aren’t necessarily permanent, and may vary by the quantity and length of smoking history, it’s important to know that a man’s fertility can completely return to normal within 1 year of quitting smoking.
Q: Have you ever been treated for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?
A: Yes, but so long ago it’s not even worth mentioning. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)—even those that are successfully treated—can impact fertility for women. STIs like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause inflammation and scar tissue that damage the Fallopian tubes and can make pregnancy difficult or even preventable. Patients who have had an STI are also found to experience an increase in their risk for ectopic pregnancy—a pregnancy where the fertilized egg is stuck in the Fallopian tube and must be removed.
It’s important to note, while your doctor needs to know your full medical history, just because you’ve had an STI in the past doesn’t mean you’ll be infertile. Simple tests, such as a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) can help evaluate the health of your Fallopian tubes.
Q: Do you have painful periods?
A: I’m used to it, I don’t notice it anymore. Overtly painful cramps, beyond the normal cramps that can accompany your period, can be a sign of endometriosis. With endometriosis, the uterine lining, called the endometrium, attaches and grows outside the uterus in the abdominal cavity. This endometrial tissue bleeds and causes inflammation and scarring that may block the Fallopian tubes or interfere with their function. Endometriosis can also cause cysts in the ovaries that affect their ability to release eggs. But with the right diagnosis and treatment, women with endometriosis are often able to become pregnant.
Q: How long have you been trying to conceive?
A: We’ve only been actively trying for less than a year. Depending on your age, if conception hasn’t occurred within 1 year after stopping contraception, there could be a problem. Even if patients aren’t actively trying to conceive, the time passed during which the couple has not been using birth control still counts. Any change in contraception, from stopping birth control pills or use of condoms during intercourse, should be discussed with your physician.
We recommend that women under the age of 35 who have not conceived within 1 year, and women 35 to 40 who have not conceived within 6 months speak with a fertility specialist. For women over 40, we recommend seeing a fertility specialist right away.
Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do to when trying to conceive. If any of these white lies sound familiar, be honest with your doctor to make sure there aren’t any red flags you might be missing that could potentially affect your fertility.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians, please call our New Patient Center at 888-971-7755.