Reproductive Health Concerns Affecting Men and Women

For increasing numbers of people in today’s modern world, a wide range of possible reproductive health problems – affecting men and women alike – are compromising their “capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so”.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Month, observed each year in February in South Africa, is an opportunity to raise awareness of reproductive health problems that can result in infertility, their prevention, and the effective medical treatments available to help men and women to overcome these reproductive health challenges.

Reproductive health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and to its functions and processes” as defined by the World Health Organisation, which also says: “Reproductive health implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so”.

This means that both men and women have the right to be informed of safe, effective, affordable, and acceptable methods of fertility regulation; and have access to the method of their choice; as well as access to appropriate health care services to enable a woman to safely carry a pregnancy and go through childbirth, to provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant.

Unfortunately, for both men and women, there are many issues that can negatively impact their reproductive health and the ability to have children, which is called infertility. In this article, we summarise the most common causes of reproductive health problems as provided by the US National Institutes of Health, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as our team of fertility experts at Cape Fertility.

Male reproductive health challenges

Low sperm count or abnormal sperm can be caused by any of the following:
– hormonal problems,
– varicocele (bulging veins above the testicle – affects 40% of men with fertility problems),
– cancer treatment like chemotherapy and radiation,
– genetic abnormalities, and
– certain medications, like anabolic steroids.

A complete lack of sperm occurs in about 10% to 15% of men who are infertile, and this could be caused by a hormone imbalance or blockage of sperm movement.

Male infertility can also be caused by sterilization or vasectomies, spinal cord injuries, erection or ejaculatory dysfunction, medical conditions, medications, a problem with hormone function, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and even specific childhood diseases like, for example, mumps.

Erectile dysfunction is a sexual dysfunction making it difficult to keep an erection, due to physical or psychological causes, including low testosterone levels, diabetes, certain prescription medications, marital problems, performance anxiety or stress.
Prostate cancer is the most common reproductive cancer among men and some of the symptoms include trouble urinating and erectile dysfunction. Regular prostate exams with their GP or a urologist is very important.

Testicular cancer occurs in testicles that produce male sex hormones and sperm. This form of cancer affects males aged between 15-35 years and can be treated through surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, although these treatments can result in a loss of fertility.

Female reproductive health challenges

The most common causes of infertility in women are advanced maternal age (35+), ovulatory disorders, endometriosis, fibroids and fallopian tube problems.

Advanced maternal age – after age 35, a woman’s fertility declines rapidly, while the chance of abnormalities and miscarriages increases exponentially.

Ovulatory disorders – Anovulation which causes irregular periods or no cycles at all, and ovulatory dysfunction, which causes cycles to vary considerably in length, are also reproductive health problems that can result in fertility problems, because without regular cycles or periods, it is not possible to fall pregnant naturally. It may also be that a woman’s ovaries have been removed surgically or that she has undergone cancer therapy and her ovaries are not functioning.

Endometriosis is a medical condition in which the tissue that should line a woman’s uterus grows outside the uterus, sometimes even on the ovaries, the bowels or the bladder. It is a known cause of infertility.

Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths that form in and around the uterus wall or womb, causing heavy, painful menstrual cycles, frequent urination, painful sex and lower back pain, as well as infertility.

Female reproductive cancers include the most common breast cancer and the life-threatening cervical cancer, as well as ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer and vulvar cancer. Other types of cancer, and the treatments thereof, will also negatively affect fertility.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS is a hormonal imbalance that results in excess male hormones, which causes irregular menstrual cycles, excessive body or facial hair, cysts on the ovaries and fertility problems.

Reproductive health challenges affecting everyone

Lifestyle choices – in both men and women, poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking and being overweight, can also negatively affect reproductive health. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes can also significantly affect reproductive health.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are contracted by having unprotected sexual intercourse with an infected person. There are more than 20 types of STDs that both men and women can contract. However, in many cases, health problems can prove to be more severe for women, especially with regards to fertility issues. For instance, gonorrhoea and chlamydia are both STDs that, if left untreated, can cause a serious pelvic inflammatory disease in a women’s reproductive organs and cause fertility challenges.

Prevention and treatments for reproductive health challenges

The good news is that many of these reproductive health challenges can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices. If you are already facing reproductive health challenges or if you are concerned about your reproductive health, we would like to invite you to reach out to us.
The good news is that there are many treatments for reproductive health challenges that cause infertility, ranging from simple medical treatments such as hormone therapy and artificial insemination to highly advanced treatments such as IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).

Our team at Cape Fertility includes several reproductive specialists with impressive qualifications and extensive experience to help you determine the best treatment for your specific reproductive health challenge. This is very important, because infertility can only be treated successfully if the real cause – and often several causes – have been accurately determined. Once the cause or causes of your fertility problem has been established, the right treatment can be provided.

You will find us at our purpose-built facilities in Cape Town that enable us to provide all the latest assisted reproduction techniques (ART) with great success. Simply contact us now by clicking here…

When you visit us at Cape Fertility, the first thing our team will do is a comprehensive assessment (also called a full fertility workup) to determine what are the cause or causes of your specific reproductive health problems as a couple.

At Cape Fertility, we value each individual patient and we look forward to providing you with individualised and personalised care, affordable quality fertility treatment, and higher success rates at our purpose-built premises in the beautiful city of Cape Town.