Male infertility is a common problem, with around one in every six men worldwide struggling to become fathers. In some cases it’s because the man has a low sperm count or his sperm doesn’t have the correct number of chromosomes. In other cases, the problem can be linked to medical conditions, injury, or genetics. Thankfully, there are several simple tests you can take which will give you an indication as to whether you might have a problem when it comes to conceiving a child. And if you do find out that you’re suffering from male infertility, there are treatments available that can increase your chances of becoming a father. Male infertility is thankfully very treatable and with early detection and treatment, most couples can still have children naturally later on in life. Here are some key indicators of male infertility and how it can be treated:
What is causing infertility in men?
There are many reasons why a man can’t produce healthy sperm, including:
– an existing medical condition, such as an infection or a disease like diabetes, that affects the reproductive organs
– long-term drug use which can affect sperm production
– a genetic condition that’s passed down from either parent
– surgery that’s been done to the reproductive organs in the past
– Older age can also affect sperm production and fertility, although this isn’t the norm for all men.
– Possible lifestyle factors or causes of infertility include excessive heat, radiation and chemicals that can damage sperm.
Overview of male infertility
Male infertility can be categorized in three different ways:
– If the man’s sperm count is too low, this is known as ‘oligospermia’. If there is a problem with the shape of the sperm, it’s called ‘teratospermia’. And if the sperm is of a low quality, it’s known as ‘azoospermia’.
– If a man’s sperm count is normal but his partner has a problem that affects her ability to get pregnant, it’s known as ‘unexplained infertility’.
– If male and female infertility are both present, it’s known as ‘combined infertility’.
– If a man’s infertility is caused by an infection, his fertility will usually return once he has been treated. However, certain genetic conditions and disorders that affect the sperm may mean a man is unable to father children naturally, and in these cases, assisted reproductive techniques may be necessary.
Semen analysis and sperm count
If you are experiencing a fertility problem, the first thing your doctor will do is test your semen to see how many sperm cells you have. This can be done through a sample of your semen (known as a ‘semen analysis’). You’ll need to abstain from sex and masturbation for between two and five days beforehand, to ensure you collect enough sperm cells. The sample can be taken at home or at a clinic. If you take the sample at home, make sure it’s kept in a cool, dry place until you take it to the clinic! The sample will be used to determine how many sperm cells you have and how well they are moving. A sample taken at home will be assessed for only the first two of these factors.
Genetics and the role of DNA
Genes are made up of DNA, and if there is any damage to this, it can cause male infertility. At least 10% of cases of infertility are linked to DNA damage or mutations in genes that are responsible for making sperm. In some cases, the damage is present at birth, while in others it occurs later on in life. In these cases, the damage to the DNA in the sperm can be treated with assisted reproductive techniques, such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
If the sperm is produced by the testicles, they will be carried by the blood to the epididymis, where they stay until they are mature enough to be ejaculated. In some cases, there may be an infection in the testicles, which can stop sperm from maturing correctly and can make them weaker. Some infections can cause a lack of sperm production in both testicles. The testicles can also be affected by genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter’s Syndrome, where the person has an extra X chromosome. Other disorders can also affect the testicles, including mumps or a traumatic injury.
Orchitis and epididymitis
Orchitis can cause male infertility by damaging the testicles and making them less effective at producing sperm. Although it is rare, epididymitis, an inflammation of the epididymis, can also affect sperm.
Prostate problems or illness
The prostate gland is next to the rectum, and a narrowing of the glands in this area can affect the ability to conceive. Prostate cancer can also impair a man’s fertility. Other illnesses, such as hepatitis, can also affect fertility.
How can you treat male infertility?
Male infertility can be treated in a number of different ways. The first thing your doctor will do is rule out any other possible causes, including STIs and general health issues. If this is the case, you’ll be given medication to clear the infection and treat any underlying conditions. If your sperm production is low, your doctor may prescribe fertility drugs that stimulate the production of more sperm. Alternatively, they may suggest surgery to remove some of your testicles, which is known as a ‘selective unilateral orchiectomy’. This will reduce your levels of testosterone and stop your body from producing too much of it. It can also help to increase your sperm production.
Male infertility is a very common health problem affecting around one in every six men in the world. It is important to note that if you are experiencing any difficulty conceiving a child, you should seek advice from your doctor as soon as possible. Male infertility can be treated and most cases are reversible. With early detection and treatment, most couples can still have children naturally later on in life.