Male Infertility: Causes and Factors

For many couples trying to start a family, trouble with conception can bring a lot of frustration and heartache. When pregnancy doesn’t occur within a reasonable time period, the tendency is for the female partner to get evaluated for infertility. Yet, people often forget that problems with infertility can stem from both partners. Statistics show that in roughly one third of all infertility cases, the cause is related to the male partner. Another one third of all infertility cases involve causes in both partners.  Therefore, when a couple has been trying to get pregnant for at least a year without success, it is important to explore the possibility that male infertility is the underlying cause.

Causes of Male Infertility

Male infertility generally involves the function and motility of a man’s sperm. He may have a low sperm count, or his sperm don’t have high motility (movement) or for some reason cannot fertilize the woman’s egg. Common causes of male infertility are:
Low sperm count – Some men have very low sperm production. This can be due to a variety of reasons that may include:
•    Genetic defects or diseases
•    A history of infections
•    Treatment for some diseases (particularly cancer)
•    Damaged or undescended testicles
•    Over-exposure to certain environmental toxins (chemicals and pesticides)
•    Frequent exposure to high levels of heat (such as hot tubs or saunas)
Poor sperm function – Certain genetic defects or diseases can contribute to poor sperm function, as can diet and lifestyle. A man’s sperm quality can be damaged or diminished by:
•    Poor general health
•    Poor nutrition
•    Overuse of drugs, tobacco or alcohol
Poor sperm delivery – Sometimes men have structural blockages in their testicles, or they encounter problems with ejaculation, all of which can mean the sperm are not delivered to the woman’s egg.
Age – As with women, men become less fertile as they grow older. Men older than 40 years of age are likely to be less fertile than younger men.
Other Factors
Certain medications also may affect a man’s fertility. Additionally, if he has had a testicle removed due to illness, his fertility will be significantly lowered.

Treatments for Male Infertility

Many fertility clinics offer treatments or procedures that can help improve the health and function of a man’s reproductive system. There are generally three approaches to treating male infertility – drug therapy, surgery and assisted reproduction:
Drug therapy – Medications can be prescribed to improve hormone production or sperm production. Certain medications can also help fight antibodies that may be harmful or destructive to a man’s sperm.
Surgery – If there is an obstruction in the man’s reproductive tract, or if he has varicose veins in his scrotum (varicoceles) that are blocking sperm, surgical treatment may be needed.
Assisted Reproduction – Different treatments, such as sperm retrieval or sperm washing, can be used to assist with reproduction. A surgeon can retrieve a man’s sperm with a syringe for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization. Sperm washing involves combining a man’s sperm with a washing liquid that isolates healthy sperm from materials in the semen which are prohibiting motility. There are also treatments available to improve the mechanics of erectile dysfunction, which can increase sperm delivery and, therefore, fertility for some men.

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