Diabetes impacts more than 30 million Americans with almost a quarter unaware that they have the disease.  Diabetes has a lifelong impact on the health of those who have it, causing a variety of health problems such as blindness, nerve damage, and kidney disease. But it also impacts an aspect of your health that is rarely discussed – your reproductive health. For national Diabetes Awareness Month, the fertility experts of UNC Fertility are here to discuss the impact that diabetes can have on both male and female fertility.

Diabetes and Female Fertility

Women with diabetes often experience lower rates of fertility than women who do not.  There are multiple factors associated with diabetes can make it difficult for women to achieve a pregnancy: obesity, being underweight, having diabetic complications, having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, or having an autoimmune disease.  The following conditions are associated with diabetes in women and generally lead to reduced fertility rates:

  • PCOS – A common hormonal condition which can affect fertility by leading to irregular or absent periods. PCOS is largely associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  • Irregular or absent periods – Many women with diabetes experience irregular periods, which can arrive in cycles of 35 days or more. Some also experience absent periods, when a woman previously had a normal cycle but stopped getting a period for 6 months or longer.
  • Premature menopause – Women with Type 1 diabetes are more likely to experience premature menopause, meaning their periods stop before they turn 40.
  • Endometrial cancer (uterine cancer) – More common in women with type 2 diabetes and PCOS, this disease and can lead to infertility if not treated early on.

Diabetes and Male Fertility

For the millions of American men living with diabetes, the disease can impact their health in a variety of ways. Not only are these men living with a high risk of cardiovascular, renal, and neurologic issues, they also are more likely to be infertile.  Diabetes can impact male fertility in many ways, such as:

  • Erectile dysfunction – Diabetes can cause nerve damage, which can lead to difficulty in maintaining an erection, making it difficult for them to conceive without assistance.
  • Ejaculatory dysfunction – The nerve damage caused by diabetes that can cause erectile dysfunction, can lead to a failure of the mechanism that propels sperm forward. This causes either retrograde ejaculation or a complete lack of ejaculation.
  • Semen abnormalities – Men with diabetes are more likely to experience decreased sperm count, poor motility, abnormal sperm shape, and a decrease in sperm DNA integrity.

Trying to Conceive When Diabetic

Whether you are a man or woman with diabetes, if you are trying to conceive, it is crucial to speak with your physician to ensure you get your diabetes under control prior to trying to conceive. When the diabetes is well managed, you have a lower risk of fertility issues than when it is not under control. Individuals with diabetes are still capable of conceiving, but maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping their diabetes in check is crucial to making that possible.

If you find that even when maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your diabetes under control you are unable to conceive, it may be time to reach out to a fertility specialist. For couples where the woman is 30 or under, fertility help should be sought after trying to conceive for a year. For couples where the woman is 35 or older, help should be sought after six months. If you have diabetes and have been trying to conceive without success, contact the fertility experts at UNC Fertility in Raleigh, North Carolina at 919-908-0000 today to schedule a consultation.