Did you know that infertility affects men just as much as it does women? You’d never know it if you weren’t paying careful attention because, historically, the woman is usually the focus of the conversation when a couple can’t get pregnant. Currently, male infertility is a factor in about 30% to 40% of all couples who receive an infertility diagnosis.
If you’ve failed to get pregnant while accurately timing intercourse for 12 consecutive months or more, we recommend consulting with a fertility specialist to see if infertility is an issue. If you are a woman who is 35-years or older, you should see a fertility specialist after 6-months of failed pregnancy tests since any potential male factor issues can be compounded by diminishing egg reserves and compromised egg quality.
Cause of Male Infertility
There are several causes of male infertility, ranging from lifestyle and diet, to anatomical abnormalities and even age (yes, men have a biological clock, too!).
Here are some of the most common causes of male infertility.
Low sperm count and/or poor sperm quality
While we can use semen analysis to identify low sperm count, poor motility (sluggish or erratic sperm movement) or poor morphology (sperm that are abnormally shaped), it’s very rare that we can pinpoint exactly why the sperm aren’t healthy. Thus, as many as 75% of male factor infertility diagnoses related to poor sperm quality remain a mystery (idiopathic).
What we do know, is that when we evaluate the medical history and lifestyle patterns for men who have low sperm count and/or poor sperm quality, there are some notable correlations. Outside of specific medical conditions, like varicocele or certain infections (more on those later), certain lifestyle habits are known to interfere with sperm production. These include:
- Illicit drug use
- Excessive drinking
- Emotional stress
- Overheating the testicles via hot tubs, saunas, baths, and even Wi-Fi laptop use has been linked to male infertility since the computer can keep the groin warm.
Not surprisingly, living a healthy lifestyle is one of the single-most important things you can do to support your own fertility health.
There are also medical conditions that can negatively affect sperm quantity and quality. These include:
- Varicocele. This condition causes swollen veins in the testicles and is often reversible.
- Infections. Any infection that affects the testicles can harm sperm production and/or create scarring that prevents sperm from passing through. These include certain STDS, like gonorrhea and HIV, along with other testicular infections.
- Cancer or tumor growths. Cancer, tumors, and/or the treatments used to cure these conditions can also cause infertility or create scar tissue that leads to male infertility.
- Undescended testicles. Sometimes, a man’s testicles never descend properly, in which case the internal body temperature is too hot for sperm to live once they’re produced. Sperm like to remain about 4° F cooler than the body does, which is why the testicles are housed outside the male body.
- Hormone imbalance. Estrogen dominance and/or low testosterone can compromise sperm production, which also compromises fertility. This is another reason to be careful about the endocrine disruptors you include in your diet, home and day-to-day activities.
There are also anatomical issues that can affect sperm production and quality. These range from testicular or sexual organ anatomy that didn’t develop correctly in utero, to illnesses or infections that caused scar tissue. Just as scar tissue can block the egg from getting down the fallopian tubes in women, scar tissue in the testicles or vas defrens can also block the sperm from passing into and out of the penis during an ejaculation.
Undescended testicles or chromosomal abnormalities can also cause male infertility. In the case of chromosomal abnormalities, like Klinefelter’s syndrome or cystic fibrosis, the disorder prevents male sexual anatomy from developing properly.
Other factors that cause male infertility
Additional factors that cause male infertility include celiac disease, autoimmune issues (sometimes the body attacks the sperm as if they are foreign invaders), and sexual performance issues (such as erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and/or delayed ejaculation). Prior surgeries can also cause scar tissue that block sperm passage.
If you suspect you or your partner may be infertile, it is worth scheduling a consultation with a fertility specialist. Similarly, we recommend that both halves of the couple go through complete infertility testing so we can choose the best fertility treatment course. The positive news is that many causes of male infertility are reversible, or can be worked around via fertility treatments such as IUI or IVF. In the more rare case that male infertility cannot be treated, we recommend using a sperm donor – again, using IUI or IVF.
image: Victor at picjumbo.com