Male infertility 101:
Causes, Risks, Treatment & Prevention
Causes, Risks, Treatment & Prevention
Have you and your partner been trying to fall pregnant for some time now, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening? It could be timing. But in at least one-third of couples struggling to conceive male infertility plays a part.
Low sperm count, blockages, abnormal sperm functions, chronic conditions, illness, lifestyle choices and injuries can all contribute to male infertility. The only way to know is to get tested. Unfortunately, many men would rather not know. But in most cases, male infertility is completely reversible.
This article will cover the main causes of male infertility and ways to improve your fertility.
- What is male infertility?
- What are the symptoms of male infertility?
- Testing for infertility
- Causes and risk factors for infertility
- Treating male infertility
- How to prevent male infertility
- How to boost male fertility
- Next steps
What is male infertility?
Fertility is a man’s natural ability to get a woman pregnant during unprotected sex. Male infertility is usually the result of some kind of reproductive issue.
What are the symptoms of male infertility?
The first sign of male infertility is an inability for your partner to fall pregnant within a year of trying to conceive. Now, it may be that she is infertile and you have a completely healthy reproductive system, but there are a few warning signs that you may be infertile. They are:
- Unusual breast growth
- Painful lumps or swelling in the testicular area
- Sexual problems such as ejaculation difficulty, erectile dysfunction, and a low sex drive
- Hormonal imbalances leading to facial hair loss
- Low sperm count (anything less than 39 million sperm per ejaculation is considered low)
The only way to really know is to get tested. Take the next step.
Testing for infertility
Arrange to see your doctor and raise your concerns. Mention how long you’ve been trying to conceive. Based on the information you share he might recommend you see a urologist. At this appointment you’ll be given a physical and asked a series of questions such as:
- Have you had any serious injuries and surgeries
- What medication you take
- Whether you exercise
- Lifestyle choices such as whether you take drugs or smoke.
You’ll be asked about your sex life, for example, how often you have sexual intercourse each week, if you experience any difficulties, have you ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmissible disease (STD).
Your doctor will ask for a sample to test your sperm count, mobility and shape, and semen acidity. But he may also take bloods to check hormone levels. If it’s found that you have a low sperm or sperm defects, your doctor may suggest a testicular biopsy or an ultrasound of your reproductive system, so your testicles, blood vessels, the internal structure of your scrotum.
Causes and risk factors for infertility
Your genetic makeup can cause infertility but so too can lifestyle choices. If you’re struggling with sperm disorders these are the primary causes:
- Smoking lowers sperm count.
- Consuming alcohol excessively, lowers testosterone levels leading to erectile dysfunction and decreased sperm production.
- Being overweight. Obesity can lead to hormonal imbalances which affect sperm production and the quality of sperm.
- Taking recreational drugs such as steroids to increase muscle mass, marijuana to calm the nerves, and cocaine can affect sperm production and the quality of sperm.
- Overheating of the testicles
- Exposure to heavy metals such as lead and industrial chemicals (pesticides, herbicides, paint thinner) can reduce sperm count.
- Radiation treatment, while this does damage your sperm it’s not permanent. Within weeks of ceasing treatment, your sperm count should return to normal.
- Formerly treated for an STD
- Undescended testes
- Twisted testes
- Long-term illnesses such as kidney disease
- Contracted mumps in childhood
- Varicoceles which are swollen veins in the scrotum (they cause blood to flow back into the testes raising the temperature which is not conducive to sperm production)
- An obstruction or blockage that prevents the semen from passing through. A vasectomy, recurrent infections and developmental defects lead to blockages.
- Low hormone levels can reduce sperm production.
- Certain medications specifically for arthritis, depression or anxiety, high blood pressure and digestive problems.
Treating male infertility
Treatment really does depend on the root cause of your infertility. Your doctor may advise surgery for blockages or twisted veins, medication to help with hormone imbalances or fertility treatments. If it’s deemed that fertility treatment is necessary your doctor will explain the options available to you.
- IVF – Invitro fertilization is the process of mixing healthy sperm with your partner’s egg. It may occur in the fallopian tubes or in a lab.
- Artificial insemination – healthy sperm will be inserted into your partners’ cervix to make their way through the fallopian tubes to the unfertilized egg.
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection – this is the process of injecting a healthy sperm into an egg. Fertilization occurs and the fertilized egg is placed into your partner’s uterus.
How to prevent male infertility
Healthy habits are important. So while you are trying to have a baby consider the following:
- Take up journaling, yoga, and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Limit alcohol and stop smoking while you’re trying to get your partner pregnant.
- Don’t take drugs.
- Take up exercise and speak to a nutritionist to help you lose weight if you are obese or overweight.
- Avoid hot baths or anything that may lead to overheating of the testicles.
- Try to steer clear of pesticides, heavy metals and other toxins that affect sperm production.
- Determine whether the medication you are taking could be affecting the quality of your sperm and speak to your doctor about stopping it.
- Leave the lubricants in your cupboard, or throw them away. While there’s no conclusive evidence that lubricants reduce your chances of conceiving, it’s best to keep things all-natural.
How to boost male fertility
Lead a healthier lifestyle
Start watching what you eat and drink. Skip fast foods in favour of eating grilled fish and chicken, and steamed vegetables or salads. This will help you to lose weight, and feel good.
Whether that’s running, cycling or a few weekly sessions in the gym, getting your body into shape can give you the boost you need to produce Olympic swimmers.
Let’s be honest, life is stressful. Between financial worries and work commitments, your body is a bag of anxiety and pent-up stress. Get rid of it through journaling, or meditating. Yoga is a great option to help you destress.
You don’t have to seek medical help immediately. Try implementing some of our top tips. But if you find that it’s been a couple of months and your partner still hasn’t conceived, it may be time to book a doctor’s appointment.
Remember, infertility is not something to feel embarrassed about. It is something that can be fixed. So don’t avoid getting treatment because you’re worried about the results. Focus on the goal: getting your partner pregnant.
If you have further questions or want to book an appointment but don’t know where to start, reach out to one of our GP’s, you can find a doctor here.
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