Having a family is an important milestone; often the road to achieve this is not smooth. Fertility issues are estimated to affect as many as 1 in 6 couples in Malaysia. Fertility is often thought as a woman’s issue, but guys, this is 2016, so get with the program, male fertility health is just as important. We speak to Dr Arasu Muthusamy, Medical Director at Fertility Associates Malaysia.
ESQUIRE: What should men need to know about their fertility and the importance of fertility screening?
Dr Arasu: Fertility screening is a great first step for both men to understand their fertility health, the readiness of your body for having a baby. Even if you are not actively trying for a baby, it’s never too early to find out what is your fertility health by undergoing fertility screening.
ESQ: So how is a fertility screening for men done?
DA: Male fertility screening for involves doing a semen analysis, test for antibodies and a review of hormones to provide a picture of an individual’s fertility status.The semen analysis analyses the number of sperm, their shape, and their ability to move. The number of sperm in a sample covers a wide range for fertile men anywhere from 20 million/ml to 400 million/ml. The number of sperm can fluctuate week by week, so it is important to check a low result to see if it that is always the situation.
ESQ: Interesting, what about the other tests?
DA: Often combined with a semen analysis is another useful test for sperm antibodies which can reduce the sperm’s ability to get through the cervical mucus to eventually reach the egg for fertilisation. There's also a simple hormone test where we test for the FSH hormone which stimulates the production of sperm in men. A higher FSH level may mean that that sperm production is very low. If there are very few sperm seen in the semen analysis and there is no blockage of the ducts that carry the sperm from the testes, then genetic tests can be useful. The main genetic test is a karyotype which looks at the number and structure of the chromosomes which carry genetic information. There also some specialised genetic tests for some types of male infertility.
However, a single test does not give the whole story, which its recommended to take these tests as part of a fertility screening package including a consultation.
ESQ: Do a lot of men do it often and usually how old are they?
DA: Not many men are proactively getting their fertility screened. I want to encourage men to take charge of their fertility health as soon as possible. Getting screened in your twenties, early thirties would set you up with a chance to plan for your family and know in advance of any issues.
ESQ: Well, fertility topics relating to men are not often talked...
DA: Fertility in general is a topic we often find hard to talk about or discuss. Often couples keep it a secret even from their close family. There is a lack of awareness and knowledge among men around the effect that male related fertility factors have on the chance of conception. This is common across a number of societies as female age is one of the biggest factors affecting fertility and so is often the focus. But I am encouraging that we shift some focus to highlight the male factors we often ignore.
ESQ: True enough, because there are some serious consequences towards men not screening their fertility right?
DA: Well, fertility screening is a tool for being more informed about your fertility status, the sooner you find out the more time you have to plan. Not having screening doesn’t mean your fertility health will not be ensured. It simply means that if there is an issue it may be that factors such as age, lifestyle will have had an irreversible effect potentially leaving you with reduced options.
ESQ: How does one think they're ready for kids or not though?
DA: Everyone’s pathway to reaching this decision is different and there are a number of factors that are at play. If you and your partner are wondering when to start trying to have kids, it’s important to remember that it can take time to complete your family so starting sooner rather than later is key. As both men and women age the harder it gets to fall pregnant so give yourself a good start, every year counts!
If you have had a condition or know that you may have some difficulty then getting your fertility screening done early on in your relationship and planning becomes even more important.
We all have our different triggers for deciding now is the time to try for a baby but keep in mind that conceiving with your spouse as soon as you start to try is not always the case. Being prepared can help make sure your ready for your journey.