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Sperm DNA Damage May Lead to Repeated Miscarriages

Sperm quality may be linked to miscarriages.

June 14, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

Miscarriages are always a hard thing for a couple to deal with-- there are strong emotions such as pain, grief, and guilt that accompany such an event. As difficult as it may sound, some women experience this multiple times in their lives-- leading them to be classified as having a recurrent pregnancy loss. There can be tests done to see what the cause is of this, but sometimes they just don’t find an answer. Research done by the Imperial College London took this a step further, and examined the possibility the perhaps the male partner was contributing to the loss. Below we’re going to examine:

  • What is recurrent pregnancy loss?
  • Are men contributing to this?

woman gripping her knees
Women who experience multiple miscarriages may be experiencing recurrent pregnancy loss.

What is Recurrent Pregnancy Loss?

Recurrent Pregnancy Loss (RPL) is defined as when a woman experiences three or more consecutive pregnancy losses before 20 weeks of gestation. According to the study, around 1-2% of couples experience RPL, but the reasons for it vary. Most of the time, it is the result of chromosomal or genetic abnormalities and are random events. Sometimes one of the parents might have an irregularity in their genes-- which would be more pronounced in the offspring and ends in a miscarriage. With women starting families later in life, the chance for miscarriage increases as well-- and sometimes it can be due to the age of the woman and her poorer egg quality.

Tests are always done to find out why a woman is experiencing RPL-- these are detailed analyses of the medical and genetic history of the parents and can include a karyotype analysis. This is the chromosomal makeup of a person and is used to determine if there are genetic abnormalities present. Tests of the uterus are conducted, as well as a hormone evaluation and ovarian function. However, sometimes these tests do not offer conclusive evidence for why RPL is occuring.

lab technician
Tests can be conducted to determine the level of sperm DNA damage in men-- which may be contributing to the miscarriages.

Could Sperm DNA be to Blame?

While women undergo extensive testing to determine a cause for their RPL, often men are not even tested at all. This may seem strange since scientists know that sperm play an important role in the development of the placenta-- which is vital for the unborn baby. This study was conducted to determine if the male partners of women experiencing RPL may have an increased chance of higher sperm damage. They examined 50 healthy men whose partners did not experience RPL, and compared them to 63 men whose partners did experience this.

After measuring levels of testosterone, sperm quantity and quality, and other molecular tests, the researchers found that the men who were experiencing RPL with their partners had twice as much sperm damage than the men whose partners were not experiencing RPL. They specifically observed the level of a chemical entity called reactive oxygen species in the men with partners experiencing miscarriages-- and observed that a much higher level of this particular chemical was present in these men.

Miscarriages happen for many reasons, but one of those reasons might be quality of sperm in a woman’s partner. It seems that since sperm DNA damage can affect fertility, it might be worthwhile to begin regularly testing men when their partners are affected by RPL.


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