One in eight couples struggle with infertility, and in half those cases, male infertility plays a part. As couples work with us through the process of diagnosing and treating infertility, it’s important to understand the role of male health.
What causes male infertility?
Male fertility – the ability to produce and deliver sperm – is impacted by a variety of medical, environmental and lifestyle causes.
- Medical causes of male infertility. Several physiological factors can negatively impact sperm production, motility and delivery. One of the most common is a varicocele, a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle. Varicocele reduces the quality of the sperm. Other factors may include infections, blockages caused by tumors, chromosomal defects, or hormonal imbalances.
It’s important to know that many of these factors are treatable, or don’t interfere with the ability to retrieve sperm for use with assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization.
- Overexposure to certain environment conditions can negatively impact male fertility, too. Some industrial chemicals, heavy metals, radiation and/or heat may inhibit sperm production. Damage from environmental factors may be reversible by reducing or eliminating exposure.
- The use of anabolic steroids, cocaine, marijuana or other illicit drugs may reduce sperm count and quality. Excessive alcohol use may also reduce sperm count and cause erectile dysfunction, and tobacco use can inhibit sperm production as well. Stress and obesity can impact sperm and cause hormone changes that inhibit fertility, too. The good news is that lifestyle changes can often improve male fertility.
How is male infertility diagnosed?
The first step towards determining if and how male infertility is a factor is a general exam and semen analysis. During the general exam, the doctor will gather patient history, evaluate current health condition and do an external examination of the male genitals.
The patient will also be asked to provide a semen sample. The sperm will be evaluated for motility, shape and number, and the sample will also be tested for the presence of infections.
Patients may require additional tests, too. Those tests may include ultrasounds, hormonal or chromosomal testing or urinalysis.
Patients can prepare for meeting with the doctor by following all pre-appointment or testing guidelines, including restrictions on ejaculating for at least two days prior to the appointment. Patients should also gather medical history, and ask male family members if they have any conditions that have interfered with their fertility. Make a list of all medications and current conditions and medications or dietary supplements, and a list of lifestyle factors or environmental factors that could influence fertility.
How can men protect their fertility?
Men can protect their fertility by protecting their overall health: avoid illicit drugs and the use of tobacco products, drink alcohol in moderation or abstain entirely, maintain a healthy weight with diet and exercise, and reduce stress. Limit exposure to excessive heat, radiation, chemicals, heavy metals and other toxins.
How can men stay healthy during infertility treatment?
Infertility treatment can be stressful, both on individuals and on the relationship, and that stress can have a rebound effect that exacerbates fertility issues. Communication and boundaries are key. Talk about and agree upon how much you are willing to invest financially and emotionally into the process. Connect with each other, and seek support from friends, family or a professional counselor. Support groups can also be very helpful. Turn to healthy options for stress management, including prayer, meditation, and exercise.