For those couples who are having a difficult time conceiving a child, it’s important to obtain a diagnosis in order to pursue effective treatment. To that end, it’s essential that both prospective parents be examined to determine what’s preventing conception. You’re in this together, after all, and infertility is often attributed to a combination of factors.
The basic definition of male factor infertility is the inability to cause pregnancy in a fertile female. But infertility is a complex situation, and requires a thoughtful approach. If a man has a low sperm count and the woman’s eggs are diminished pregnancy isn’t impossible, but will require treatment for both. To ignore the man’s compromised fertility will make pregnancy that much more difficult.
Signs of Potential Infertility
There aren’t always obvious signs of male infertility. Many men don’t realize they have an issue until the couple is unable to conceive a child. For some men, though, there are telltale signs that may forewarn of potential fertility problems. Health issues often associated with infertility in men are:
- Pain in the testicles, swelling or lumps, discoloration, or bulging veins could be signs you have a varicocele.
- Problems affecting sexual function, such as erectile dysfunction, loss of libido (sexual desire), inability to ejaculate, and minimal amounts of ejaculated fluid
- Gynecomastia, or abnormal breast growth, which may indicate a hormonal imbalance
- Recurring respiratory infections
- A decrease in the amount of body hair, which may indicate a chromosomal, or hormonal problem
- Loss of sense of smell
- Any prior procedures in the groin area, such as prostate, penis, or scrotum
Obviously, a prior vasectomy (male tubal ligation) greatly impacts a man’s fertility. Nearly half a million men undergo vasectomies in the US annually, with 5%-10% seeking to have the procedure reversed at a later date. Depending on the number of years since the procedure, reversal may be possible. If it’s been more than 10 years then it becomes more difficult due to scar tissue formation, and aging.
For men who can’t have their vasectomies successfully reversed, there are procedures by which sperm can be extracted from the testicles, and used in IVF. The results of this process are very successful.
Common Reasons Behind Male Infertility
For most men there are no signs of their infertility. There may be any number of conditions affecting the sperm count, or the condition of the sperm, and how sperm gets to where it needs to be. Hormonal and chromosomal issues could be impacting your ability to conceive, and something as seemingly innocuous as your lifestyle can impair fertility. Here are some of the more common causes of infertility:
- Testicular failure occurs when the testicles can’t produce sufficient sperm, or the hormone testosterone. In the case of testicular failure surgery isn’t very successful. It’s often advised the couple use donor sperm. In some specific cases, hormone therapy may be helpful.
- Thyroid disease, especially hypothyroidism, has a huge impact on the quality and amount of your sperm and semen. Additionally, an underachieving thyroid can cause loss of libido, and erectile dysfunction.
- Hormonal imbalances impact a man’s ability to produce sperm. Once the cause of the hormone deficiency is uncovered, hormone supplements are often all that’s needed to restore fertility.
- Varicoceles may present with symptoms, or you may have no symptoms at all. Somewhat like varicose veins in the legs, a varicocele is a vein abnormality in the scrotum. The flow of blood to the testicles is blocked and will interfere with sperm production, and possibly cause the testicles to shrink. Varicoceles are usually treatable with surgery.
Diagnosing Male Infertility
For most men, the hardest part of obtaining a diagnosis is going to the doctor. It’s best to go to a fertility specialist for your diagnosis, as they are focused on your fertility and are up-to-date on the latest treatment protocols.
A general physical assessment will be performed, medical history taken, and a semen analysis to look at the sperm for the number, motility (movement) and shape. A semen analysis will also check for infections, and other problems. Because sperm counts can vary from sample to sample, a few specimens, over a certain period of time are necessary for accuracy.
IVF and Male Infertility
IVF is the most successful way for couples experiencing male infertility to become pregnant. Even when a man has a very low sperm count, the IVF procedure will very often result in a successful pregnancy. If you suspect male infertility is a factor in your inability to conceive, obtain a diagnosis and discuss your options as soon as possible.