Male Infertility Causes
You don’t hear about it as often as its female counterpart, but infertility is not just a female problem. While statistics tend to focus on the woman, it is important to note that male infertility diagnoses are just as common. In fact, male infertility (or a combination of the male and female partner both having issues) makes up 50% of all infertility cases. However, most men don’t go in for a noninvasive diagnosis until their partners have endured extensive evaluations.
How It Works
Fertility is complex, with infertility seeming more complex still. What we do know, is what makes fertile couples successful from a male fertility standpoint:
- Healthy sperm production
- Sperm and semen must mix after sperm are produced in the testicles
- Sperm count – to increase the chance that an egg is fertilized
- Sperm motility (or how it moves) – so it can reach the egg to fertilize it
- Sperm morphology (or how it is shaped) – so that it can penetrate the egg to fertilize it
If anything interferes with sperm production and delivery, or if an infection hinders your sperm’s ability to move, male infertility issues may arise.
Causes and Risk Factors
Problems with male fertility can be caused by several things – from health issues and medical treatments, to poor lifestyle choices, environmental factors, and normal aging.
Post-testicular causes are a set of conditions that affect the male genital system after the sperm has been produced. They include infections, obstructions, and defects of the genital tract as well as problems in ejaculation.
Some Common Infertility Culprits
The most common (and reversible!) cause of male infertility is varicocele – a condition of swollen testicle veins that is present in about 15% of all men and in about 40% of infertile men.
Of the most commonly known causes of male infertility, Klinefelter Syndrome is a chromosomal defect that occurs in males early in the womb that results in smaller testes, which reduces the levels of testosterone and sperm production that naturally occurs.
Furthermore, antisperm antibodies are immune system cells which mistake sperm for a harmful intruder and tries to destroy them. These antibodies can be found in both males and females and have been considered as the cause of infertility in about 20% of infertile couples.
Cancerous tumors and nonmalignant tumors can affect the male reproductive organs directly, via the glands that release hormones related to reproduction. Unfortunately, some treatments to overcome cancer can also negatively affect male fertility, such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Seeking a fertility consultation before undergoing cancer treatments will allow you to understand what negative effects (if any) are expected based on your specific treatment regimen. If treatment will harm or eliminate fertility potential, you can choose to preserve your fertility through sperm freezing.
STDs and STIs
Some infections can interfere with sperm production or sperm health or can cause scarring that blocks the passage of sperm. Chlamydia is the most common STI associated with male infertility, followed by gonorrhea. Both are bacterial infections and are treatable with antibiotics.
It is important to note that up to half of infections do not produce noticeable symptoms, and if left uncontrolled, can cause permanent scarring and blockages in the areas associated with sperm production. Although some infections can result in permanent testicular damage, most often sperm can still be retrieved through surgical procedures.
There are many associated causes related to lifestyle choices and health issues. These include smoking cigarettes, being overweight, heavy consumption of alcohol, or the use of illicit drugs.
- Smoking tobacco products may damage the testicles and kill sperm
- Obesity increases the likelihood of abnormal sperm cells
- Alcohol abuse can cause erectile dysfunction and decreased sperm health
Aging happens to us all and is not under our control, but it is an important factor in infertility. While men can still procreate well into their later years, their sperm numbers decline along with their testosterone. In addition, research has found older sperm can contribute to conditions like autism and schizophrenia in children who are conceived after their father turns 50.
Although some causes of male infertility are out of your control, it is important to live a healthy lifestyle, perform self-exams, and get regular check-ups. By doing so, you will have a head start in addressing all the aspects of male fertility that you do have control over. Learn more in our article What is Male Infertility.
Should I See a Specialist?
If you are struggling with male infertility, you are not alone. Comprehensive tests, including hormonal testing, semen analysis, and testicular ultrasounds, are simple and painless. Vios Fertility Institute offers you a team of compassionate doctors and state-of-the-art testing and treatment options to help you along your unique fertility journey.
Take control of your fertility health and contact us today to schedule a consultation!