The inability to conceive can be a stressful experience for any couple, especially if they have been trying for a year or more. Almost one in seven couples experience issues with their fertility and in around half of these cases, male infertility has played a role.
But just what is male infertility and how common is it? We take a look behind the stats.
What is male infertility?
If you and your partner have been trying unsuccessfully for 12 months or more to conceive and are having regular, unprotected sex, then you are considered to be experiencing fertility issues. Research has indicated that around 30% of infertility cases are due to the woman and 30% are due to the man. Around 30-40% are due to both or unknown causes.
For a man to get his partner pregnant he needs to function testicles and have healthy sperm in sufficient numbers (sperm count) that have good motility or ability to move. If he is experiencing infertility, then that will indicate an issue with his sperm or ability to ejaculate.
How common is it?
Scientists believe that sperm counts in the Western world have declined by over 50% in the last 40 years, a drop that has been linked to lifestyle and environmental factors. And, by association, an estimated 7% of men are thought to be affected by infertility.
Causes of male infertility
There are a number of factors that can contribute to or cause male infertility, including:
- Poor quality semen, including reduced sperm count, poor sperm motility or abnormally shaped sperm
- Abnormally low testosterone levels
- Ejaculation disorders or disfunction
- Problems with the testicles, including injury, cancer or infection
- Genetics, including chromosomal conditions that affect how sperm is produced
If you have been trying unsuccessfully for over a year to conceive a child, then both you and your partner should seek medical advice to discover if there is an underlying problem or cause.
You should also see a doctor if you are also experiencing pain, swelling or discomfort in your testicle or groin area as infertility can also be a symptom of another underlying health condition.
How is infertility diagnosed?
Your doctor will look at your medical and personal history, as well as to conduct a physical exam and analyze your semen to identify any problems with your sperm count or quality. They may also recommend blood tests, an ultrasound, or other diagnostic tests to help in making the right diagnosis. You may then be referred to a fertility specialist if an issue with your sperm has been highlighted or there are no other underlying health problems causing your infertility.
Treating male infertility
There are numerous procedures that can help to resolve male infertility, and your fertility clinic will work with you and your partner to identify the best treatment regime. In some cases, injections to boost your testosterone levels can trigger sperm production. Surgery and medical devices are also options in some cases.
Your doctor may also recommend assisted reproduction. This includes Intra-uterine insemination (IUI) if you are experiencing erection problems or IVF. In vitro fertilization (IVF) involves stimulating the woman’s ovaries to produce eggs, which are then fertilized in vitro (outside the body, ie. in a laboratory) before being transferred into the uterus. In cases where the sperm is unlikely to fertilize the egg on its own, ICSI treatment – which involves directly injecting the sperm into the egg – can be used.
How to boost your fertility
And finally, as well as working with fertility experts, it is possible to help boost your own fertility by making a few lifestyle changes, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke and reduce your alcohol intake
- Moderate exercise and reduce stress
- Limit your exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, and other toxins
- Avoid tight underwear or anything that can increase heat stress on your testicles
While male infertility is not always preventable, taking measures to be as healthy as possible, alongside any prescribed treatment, can help to increase your chances of becoming a parent in the long run.