Up to 15 percent of couples are infertile. This means they aren’t able to conceive a child, even though they’ve had frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for a year or longer. In over a third of these couples, male infertility plays a role.
Male Infertility is due to low sperm production, abnormal sperm function or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm. Illnesses, injuries, chronic health problems, lifestyle choices and other factors can play a role in causing male infertility.
Not being able to conceive a child can be stressful and frustrating, but a number of male infertility treatments are available.
The main sign of male infertility is the inability to conceive a child. There may be no other obvious signs or symptoms. In some cases, however, an underlying problem such as an inherited disorder, a hormonal imbalance, dilated veins around the testicle or a condition that blocks the passage of sperm causes signs and symptoms.
Although most men with male infertility do not notice symptoms other than the inability to conceive a child, signs and symptoms associated with male infertility include:
- Problems with sexual function — for example, difficulty with ejaculation or small volumes of fluid ejaculated, reduced sexual desire, or difficulty maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
- Pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Inability to smell
- Abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
- Decreased facial or body hair or other signs of a chromosomal or hormonal abnormality
- A lower than normal sperm count (fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen or a total sperm count of less than 39 million per ejaculate).
Common Environmental Causes of Male Infertility
- Excess heat, for example due to the male’s occupation, such as truck drivers, welders, or firefighters, or habits, such as excessive use of the hot tub or tight clothing.
- Drugs, including certain antibiotics and prescription medicines, anabolic steroids, alcohol, marijuana.
- Toxicants, such as pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, lead, mercury, or paint
- Excess exercise, including bicycling
- Chronic disease, such as anemia, malnutrition, cancer, neurological disease, or diabetes
- Dietary deficiencies, such as zinc, vitamin C, folic acid
- Varicocele, a condition in which the veins enlarge inside the scrotum
- Diseases of the male genital tract, including infection, cancer, trauma, or retrograde ejaculation
- Surgery on the male genital tract, such as for the treatment of undescended testicle, or hernia
Genetic Causes of Male Infertility
- Mutations inside the genes that determine the male sex, called the Y-chromosome
- Other irregular changes in the genes. For instance, some men have a condition called Klinefelter’s XXY syndrome in which they have an extra copy of the female-sex determining genes (the X chromosome)
- Hormonal issues, such as: diabetes, high levels of the milk-producing hormone prolactin, or problems with the hormone-producing organs like the thyroid or adrenal gland
Male Infertility Treatments
Not all male infertility is permanent or untreatable, it is not uncommon for men to treat infertility through one or a combination of actions.
- Avoiding damaging environmental factors, such as smoking, heat exposure, heavy exercise, toxicants, certain drugs, or excessive alcohol
- Reducing stress
- Taking medications,which include antibiotics (if an infection is suspected); fertility medications (Clomiphene, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) or LH/FSH injections)
- Vitamins, such as folic acid, zinc, or L-carnitine
- Alternative medicine. However, certain types of herbs may be harmful. Acupuncture is generally not harmful or helpful.
- Surgery, such as reversing a vasectomy or repairing a condition called varicocele, in which the veins inside the scrotum become enlarged
- In vitro fertilization, which is usually done via a process called Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI)