Smoking and Fertility

We all know that smoking can cause lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes; but many of us still smoke. “You have to die of something” is what I hear a lot from my patients. I am not going to debate the wisdom of that statement here, but let me explain smoking’s impact on both male and female fertility.

Female smokers take longer to conceive and have a higher chance of not being able to have children than non-smokers. The toxins in cigarettes can be found in the fluid filled sacs containing the eggs (follicles) in a smokers’ ovaries. The eggs are bathed in these toxins, and they literally kill a woman’s eggs. One study looking at ovaries of smokers and non-smokers under a microscope found that smokers had about half the number of eggs as non-smokers. The toxins may cause the eggs to be more prone to genetic abnormalities as well. This can also lead to a higher rate of miscarriages. Pregnant smokers are more likely to have low birth weight babies and premature births. Babies who have a parent that smokes are more likely to die of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), develop asthma, or be hospitalized for respiratory illness too. Male offspring of mothers that smoked have poorer sperm and more infertility themselves. When going through IVF (in vitro fertilization or the test tube baby procedure), smokers have about half the chance of success as non-smokers. They require more medication and produce fewer eggs with more cancelled cycles. Female smokers go through menopause earlier too.

Men who smoke are not immune either. They have lower sperm counts and the sperm do not move as well. There are more abnormally-shaped sperm too. The DNA inside the sperm of a smoker has more abnormalities. All of this can affect fertility. Male smokers have more erectile dysfunction too, especially as they get older. Their passive smoke affects their female partner’s fertility too, even when she doesn’t smoke.

So now you have even more reasons to quit. I know it’s hard, but this is very important. It’s not just for you, but for your whole family. And yes, even though you have to die of something, it doesn’t have to be from a stroke at age 50. You want to be around long enough to see your kids graduate from college and get married and to enjoy your grandkids, don’t you? So how do you quit? There are many different ways. Many states, such as Colorado, have programs set up with the money won from the tobacco company to help you quit. In Colorado, it’s called the Colorado QuitLine. You can call 1-800-Quit Now (1-800-784-8669) or go to http://www.coquitline.org/ for help. They have resources to give you free nicotine replacement gum or patches, coaching, etc. You may want to talk to your doctor about Chantix and whether it is right for you. Pick a partner and quit together, or you may want to try the carrot and stick method. Make a bet with a friend or family member–you will quit smoking by a certain date or _____ will happen. Pick something you really don’t want to happen (e.g. you will have to clean out the garage and the basement, you will have to donate $100 to a political candidate you don’t like, you will give up TV for 3 months, etc–make it as horrible as you can). If you do quit, the carrot happens–you will give yourself a get away weekend, your friend will buy you a steak dinner, your spouse will allow you to pick the TV shows for a month, or something like that. If you ask for help and try hard, you can quit. As Nike says, just do it!

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