If you and your partner have been unsuccessfully attempting to conceive a child for at least a year, you are medically considered to be infertile. It is important to note, however, that infertility and sterility are not the same things. Couples are considered to be sterile only if one or both of them have a medical issue that makes conception impossible. Infertility, however, has many causes and can usually be reversed once the cause of the infertility is corrected. Although either partner can have fertility issues, they are most common in men. Take note of these common causes of infertility in men and their solutions.
While some infertility issues may require a doctor’s help, many are attributed to lifestyle choices. Making different choices, even if only for a short time, can increase the odds of conception. A healthy diet and exercise are as important for balancing reproductive hormones as they are for overall health, so getting in shape may increase a man’s fertility. Stay out of the hot tub or sauna after a workout, however, as the extreme heat in both of these places kill sperm and lower sperm counts. Smoking, too, can lower sperm count while alcohol, cocaine and other drugs can reduce both the number and quality of sperm.
Exposure to certain chemicals can affect male fertility directly by damaging or killing sperm or indirectly by altering the levels of reproductive hormones in the body. This exposure could happen at home or on the job, so men who are trying to conceive must be vigilant. Chemicals that are potentially dangerous to reproductive health are found in adhesives, degreasers, paints, varnishes and other common items. Some specific chemicals to be on the lookout for include:
When to Call the Doctor
Sometimes the causes of infertility are related to an underlying medical condition rather than a problem with the reproductive system directly. Many of the disease processes that impact fertility are silent and may not have any symptoms other then fertility issues. Diseases that can lower sperm count or otherwise interfere with fertility include thyroid disease, diabetes, HIV, Cushing’s syndrome, and cystic fibrosis. Kidney failure and anemia can cause infertility as can sexually transmitted infections and heart disease. An inflamed prostate could also be to blame. If nothing else, a visit to the doctor to rule these things out may be in order.
Physical trauma can impact male fertility, and the trauma need not be sustained to the groin or directly to the reproductive system. Injuries to the spine and brain can both cause fertility issues as can liver damage. These injuries can be the result of a traumatic event or injury but can also be the result of surgical scars and procedures. Although most men struggling with these issues are likely to be aware of them, they may not expect them to affect fertility. A medical history review with a physician may trigger a connection both patient and doctor were previously unaware of.
More commonly referred to as an undescended testicle, cryptorchidism is a condition in which one or both of the testicles stay inside a man’s abdomen rather than moving into his scrotum. Though undescended testicles often work properly, the higher temperatures inside the body kill most of the sperm they produce. Surgical intervention or hormonal treatments are used to correct this problem.
Though it sound pretty serious, a varicocele in simply a varicose vein found in the scrotum. This swelled vain overheats the testicle, causing sperm to die. A surgeon can correct the problem by sealing off the engorged vein and rerouting the blood that was going through it. Doing so is enough to restore proper scrotal temperature and increase sperm count in most cases.
Klinefelter’s syndrome can result in sterility or infertility. In Klinefelter’s syndrome, a male is born with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome rather than the typical configuration of one X and one Y. As a result, hormonal balance is altered and leads to minimal sperm production. In some cases, sperm is not produced at all. Hormone treatments often help. In cases with minimal sperm production, a doctor can place a needle in the testicle, pull the sperm out manually, and then inject it directly into an egg to increase the odds of conception.
In men with retrograde ejaculation, semen travels into the bladder rather then out of the body during ejaculation. Retrograde ejaculation is allowed when weak bladder neck muscles fail to properly close as usual when semen flows past the bladder during orgasm. The condition isn’t dangerous or harmful in any way but makes conception difficult. Medication often corrects the problem. If it doesn’t, sperm can often be recovered from the bladder and used in IVF. Some drugs can cause retrograde ejaculation. In this case, a medication change may be enough to correct the issue.
In this condition, the urinary opening on the tip of the penis is located on the bottom of the organ rather than the top. The angle at which ejaculate leaves the penis in this condition can make it difficult or impossible for sperm to reach the cervix. This problem can be corrected surgically to improve fertility and for cosmetic reasons. If surgery is not possible for some reason, ejaculate can be collected and used to artificially inseminate a man’s partner.
With the right doctor and a bit of tenacity, it is often possible to track down and correct the causes of male infertility. Though the journey to parenthood can be a long and arduous one, many couples ultimately reach their goal after the struggle. The key to success is to form a close partnership with a trusted and skilled physician who is willing to take fertility diagnosis and treatments as far as their patients are safely able and willing to go.