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You are here: Home > Fertility & Trying to Conceive > Fertility Health

Medications That Can Harm Your Fertility

by Elizabeth Keefe | February 26, 2014 11:01 AM
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You may have been trying to conceive for months, or maybe years before visiting a doctor. It can be a frustrating time for both of you — especially if nothing is happening. However, many couples would benefit from visiting their doctors beforehand to get a checkup, yes, but also to go over their lists of medications they take. There are certain medications, both over the counter and prescription that affect both male and female fertility.

Certain Blood Pressure Medications

Affects: Male Fertility

Main Effects: Sperms ability to fertilize egg

Calcium channel blockers, such as diltiazem (Cardizem), nifedipine (Procardia), verapamil (Calan), amlodipine (Norvasc), used for the treatment of high blood pressue, have been shown to cause a direct effect on a man's fertility. In 1994 researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at North Shore University Hospital and Cornell University Medical College discovered that the sperm in men who take calcium channel blockers, were unable to fertilize a woman's egg due to changes that occur in sperm cell membranes. These men, by either discontinuing or changing their medication to another blood pressure drug, were able to achieve pregnancy easier.

Antibiotics

Affects: Male Fertility

Main Effects: Sperm toxicity, reduced sperm count

If you are trying to conceive and need antibiotics, be sure to let your doctor know, because, yes, certain antibiotics can also affect sperm quality. According to the Center for Biomedical Research, that a class of drugs called nitrofurans, used to treat urinary tract infections, are shown to be toxic to sperm. This is of course temporary, but doctors are recommended not to give this class of drugs to men who want to conceive, until further research is done. Other antibiotics such as sulfasalazine, minocycline, also seem to cause toxicity to male sperm. Tetracycline, a common antibiotic, reduces sperm count by up to 25%, according to researchers at the University of Nevada. This effect, according to the study, also has the potential to be passed to offspring.

Antidepressants

Affects: Male Fertility

Main Effects: Damage to Sperm, Erectile dysfunction, Reduced sex drive

With the push on recommendations that people take antidepressants, particularly SSRI's, no wonder some couples have trouble conceiving. Not only do some antidepressants cause a decrease in a man's sex drive, but they can also cause erectile dysfunction — a major problem for a couple trying to conceive. Now, new research is showing that SSRI's can cause a lot more damage. According to Dr. Peter Schlegel, the senior author of a study conducted in 2009 at Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, men who take the antidepressants Paxil or Seroxat (generic name, paroxetine), causes a "major increase in genetic damage to sperm" and "half of men taking SSRIs have a reduced ability to conceive".

You might be thinking, "So what are we suppose to do now?" Many people take antidepressants nowadays, and for some they are absolutely necessary. If this is you, don't even consider asking your doctor to stop taking your medication. However, if it is an option for you to not take SSRI's, and you are trying to conceive, you may want to find alternative ways to reduce depression, stress, and anxiety. Is your depression stemming from not being able to conceive? If this is the case, an infertility support group, and some individual therapy may be just what you need. Talk to your doctor about the options available, and never stop taking depression medication by yourself. These medications can cause withdrawal symptoms, dangerous psychiatric conditions, and an increased risk of suicide if not tapered off gradually while being monitored by a doctor.

Medications That Affect Hormones

Affects: Male and Female Fertility

Main Effect: Hormone Imbalances

Hormone imbalances are a known cause of infertility in men and women, so anything that affects hormones should be avoided, or discontinued, unless it's absolutely needed.

Cimetidine, the active ingredient in Tagament®, available by prescription and over the counter, is used to treat stomach ulcers. It has been shown to cause erectile dysfunction and an elevated level of prolactin which affects a man's hormone levels.

Soy based medications, supplements and foods can also affect fertility in both men and women. Soy contains phytoestrogens. While these plant based estrogens only produce minimal effects, they can still affect hormone levels in both men and women. Prescription medications, supplements and foods can all contain soy, so while trying to conceive, it is best to stay away from anything that says "soy-based", "soy isoflavones", and "isoflavones" on the label. It is, of course, without saying that eating soy will also have the same effects.

Other medications that can affect your hormones include hormone replacement therapy such as taking testosterone, and anabolic steroids, which is known for being used by bodybuilders, but also are used by some doctors to treat other conditions.

Chemotherapy Drugs

Affects: Male and Female Fertility

Main Effects: Damage to reproductive organs, sperm and eggs.

Sometimes an unfortunate event such as a cancer diagnosis can put plans on hold. Some couples who still want to conceive after cancer treatment will need to discuss with their oncologist about the effects of chemotherapy. Not all chemotherapy drugs will impair a man or woman's fertility. However, chemotherapy drugs that come from the class of drugs called alkylating agents are more likely to cause infertility by damaging reproductive organs. Speak with your doctor about your options before treatment.

Whether you need antibiotics, hormone replacement therapy, are depressed, have a stomach ulcer, high blood pressure, or cancer, medications to treat these conditions can have an effect on your fertility. If you are considering trying to conceive, speak to your doctor before you begin so that medications can be changed or if possible, stopped, to increase your changes of conceiving. Never stop any medication before speaking to your doctor first. Stopping on your own could have severe life threatening complications if not done under medical supervision.


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