What are the most common causes of infertility in men?
What is Male Infertility?
You and your partner have finally decided that you’re ready for a family, but after trying and trying for what feels like ages, you still haven’t conceived.
If this sounds like you, you are not alone: up to 15 percent of couples are infertile. Infertility is generally defined as when a couple isn’t able to conceive a child despite having frequent and unprotected intercourse for a year or longer. In most cases, a couple who has difficulty conceiving will look to fertility evaluations for the female partner. However, although it is less common than infertility in women, male infertility could also be the culprit.
Males are the primary cause of approximately 30% of infertility cases, and male infertility contributes to approximately 50% of all cases. While it takes two fertile individuals to successfully conceive, male fertility itself is a complex process. In order for a man to conceive with a fertile woman, the following must happen successfully:
- The testicles must produce healthy sperm
- Sperm must be transferred from the testicles into the semen
- There needs to be enough sperm in the semen
- The sperm must be functional and mobile enough to reach the egg
The Causes and Symptoms of Male Infertility
Male infertility is caused by low sperm production, physical problems that prevent the delivery of sperm (i.e. erectile dysfunction or difficulty ejaculating), or abnormal sperm function. Sperm are considered abnormal when they have unusually short lifespans or low mobility, which may be caused by inflammation or abnormal development of the testicles as well as swollen veins in the scrotum. In general, the three main factors that affect male fertility are medical, environmental, and lifestyle factors. These factors and some of their common causes are listed below:
- Infection, such as inflammation of the Epididymis (Epididymitis) or testicles (Orchitis), or sexually-transmitted infections such as Gonorrhea and HIV
- Ejaculation issues, which can be caused by erectile dysfunction, diabetes, spinal medications, or surgery in the genital area
- Varicocele, or the swelling of the veins surrounding the testicles, may result in poor sperm quality
- Hormonal imbalance of the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Thyroid and Adrenal glands
Exposure to toxic chemicals, heavy metals such as lead, and radiation such as X-rays, can reduce sperm count or permanently affect sperm production.
- Prolonged stress can lead to hormonal imbalance, negatively affecting sperm count
- Obesity heightens the risk for infertility in males
- Use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco
- Wearing restrictive or tight underwear or pants
Often, there are few or no distinct signs of infertility other than difficulty conceiving. This can make it difficult to diagnose a specific cause for infertility. In fact, as many as 40-50% of cases of male infertility are diagnosed with an “unknown cause”. This is partially due to the difficulty of isolating a cause for poor sperm function or sperm abnormality.
The diagnostic process for male infertility involves physical examination, a patient interview, and an analysis of the patient’s medical history. Patients may also undergo a sperm analysis to establish sperm count, to verify the shape, movement, and health of the sperm, and to determine possible treatments. Sperm analyses generally focus on 4 aspects of sperm health:
- Total volume of semen, where a lower amount can indicate seminal vesicle issues, blocked ducts, or a prostate gland issue
- Sperm count, where 20-300 million per milliliter is in the normal range and below 10 million is considered poor
- Morphology, where the size and shape of the sperm can affect the sperm’s performance
- Motility, or the movement and number of active cells, which is expressed in percentages from 1-100% and where 50% is considered the healthy minimum
How to Prevent Male Infertility
It often takes repeated failed attempts to conceive for men to discover that they are infertile. However, there are certain symptoms that could indicate a current or future problem with fertility, generally resulting from a related illness. Visit your doctor if you and your partner have been unable to conceive a child after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse, or if you have experienced any of the following symptoms:
- Erection or ejaculation problems
- Low sex drive or issues with sexual function
- Pain, inflammation, or a lump on or around the testicles
- A history of testicle, prostate or sexual issues
- Previous surgeries on or around the genitals
In the case of those with genetic problems or illnesses, infertility may be impossible to treat effectively. However, where possible, a health professional examining a patient for infertility may recommend lifestyle changes that may help to improve sperm health and minimize the risk of future illness. These include:
- Treating or avoiding STIs
- Avoiding drug or alcohol use
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding radiation and poisonous chemicals
- Practicing good personal hygiene and maintaining proper nutrition and health
- Avoiding overexposure to heat (i.e. long hot baths, hot tubs, or saunas)
- Wearing loose-fitting underwear or pants
Male Infertility: What are your Options?
While couples experiencing infertility may be frustrated in their efforts to conceive a child, there are other options that prospective parents can take advantage of. Simple Surrogacy was founded in 2002 to assist couples and individuals who desire to achieve a family through third party assisted reproduction and was founded on the principle of providing our clients with the highest standard of care in the surrogacy and egg donation industry. Our team of professionals consists of current and former surrogate mothers and egg donors, parents through surrogacy, and counselors. Please visit our About Us Page or call us toll-free at 1-866-41-SURRO to learn more about our dedicated team members and services.Go back