Women may give birth, but conceiving a child is a two person job. Over 40% of infertility cases are due to male problems. These issues can go un-diagnosed, partly because men are less likely than women to see a doctor regularly.
Even if you do visit your doctor for check-ups, you should go for a full examination when you decide to have a baby. Getting this done before trying to conceive can avoid months of stress. Explain why you are there, to ensure your doctor covers all the bases.
Your visit should include a physical exam of the genitals, blood tests, and taking a sperm sample. Make sure that you know the main symptoms of infertility, and mention anything worrying to your doctor.
Symptoms of Male Infertility
The main sign of infertility is not being able to conceive a child. However, there are warning signs that can indicate trouble before that.
- Sexual problems including a lack of desire for sex, trouble getting or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction), and difficulty ejaculating.
- Any pain, swelling or lump on the testicles.
- Chronic chest infections.
- No sense of smell.
- Breast growth.
- Sparse facial and body hair, which can indicate a hormonal or genetic problem.
Causes of Male Infertility
In order to get a woman pregnant, the man’s body must:
- Produce healthy sperm.
- Get sperm from the testicles to the semen.
- Produce enough sperm.
- Produce sperm that can move.
An estimated 1 in 20 men has some problem with sperm production.
To produce healthy sperm, you need at least one healthy, functioning testicle. Your hormone levels need to support sperm production. Problems can occur during puberty which stop the testicles from making sperm. A lack of testosterone and other hormones can stop your testes from producing sperm.
A blockage in the tubes that transport sperm from the testicles can stop sperm from mixing with semen. You may still ejaculate, but your semen won’t contain sperm. A total lack of sperm is uncommon, uccuring in aboiut 1 in 100 men. Blockages can result from trauma or surgical scarring. If you have had surgery or an injury in that area, inform your doctor.
If you don’t produce enough sperm, conception becomes less likely. Less than 15 million sperm per millileter of sperm is considered low.
If your sperm are abnormal, or don’t move well, they are less likely to reach and penetrate the egg. The movement can be seen by examining a sperm sample under a microscope.
Diagnosing Male Infertility
Your doctor will need to find out what the cause of your problem is. In order to do this, they need as much information as possible. Please don’t be embarrassed – they have seen and heard it all! Your doctor will hear your symptoms, then perform the necessary tests.
- General health – Diet and fitness affect fertility. Your doctor will weigh you and test your blood pressure. Stress can lower sperm production and make it harder to ejaculate. Mention any chronic illnesses you have, such as diabetes. Mumps after puberty can cause infertility.
- Blood tests – Infections, inflammation and cancer can show up on blood tests.
- Physical exam – Lumps in the testes can indicate blockages or tumors. Enlarged lymph nodes can warn of an infection.
- Sperm sample – Shows the amount of sperm and any abnormality in form or movement.
- Previous trauma or surgery – Your medical history can tell your doctor where to look for blockages or damage.
- Lifestyle factors – Smoking, and drug or alcohol abuse can affect sperm production. Be honest about your substance use.
- Medications – Some chronic medications can affect fertility. For example, antidepressant use can lead to a low sex drive and difficulty ejaculating. Tell your doctor about all medications you take, including supplements.
Treatment of Male Infertility
Your treatment will depend on the cause. That is why it is so important to have a thorough work up. Every factor that could affect fertility should be considered.
Before embarking on expensive or unnecessary treatment, you should try making some simple lifestyle changes. All of these factors can affect sperm production.
- Quit smoking.
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Improve your diet.
- Reduce stress.
- Keep yourself safe from sexually transmitted diseases.
- Avoid tight-fitting underwear.
- Avoid harmful chemicals.
Unfortunately, some causes of infertility are irreversible. These include major trauma to both testicles, and cases where no sperm is produced in the testicles even after hormone therapy.
Surgery is an option to remove blockages preventing sperm from reaching the semen. This is a good treatment option for varicoceles, which are swellings in the veins of the scrotum.
Fertility drugs are an option if the problem is a hormonal imbalance. However, drug therapies are less successful in treating male infertility than they are for women.
In vitro fertization (IVF) is an option even if you have a very low sperm count, as are other methods of artificial insemination.
Only once all avenues have been explored will your doctor suggest alternative methods of having a family, such as using donor sperm or adoption.
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