Infertility affects roughly one in six couples, and male factor infertility plays a role in about 30% of those cases. Unlike some of the most common causes of female infertility – endometriosis, PCOS, fibroid tumors or advanced maternal age – most causes of male infertility have zero signs or symptom.
In fact, it’s the difficulty in conceiving a child that becomes the largest red flag for most men and their physicians. Fortunately, many of the 5 main causes of male infertility are “treatable” via diet and lifestyle changes as well as pairing the right fertility treatment with the diagnosis.
1. Low sperm count
The female egg only lives about 12 to 24 hours after it’s released from the mature follicle. Healthy sperm, on the other hand, can live for up to a few days. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to have sexual intercourse in the days leading up to ovulating, as well as the day of, to ensure there are plenty of sperm there waiting to swim to the egg.
In cases where there is low sperm count, there are far fewer sperm available and this makes it difficult for the right sperm to penetrate the egg. Low sperm count means there are less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen or fewer than 39 million per ejaculate.
Causes of low sperm count include:
- Hereditary conditions
- Exposure to radiation or harmful chemicals
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low testosterone
- Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and/or recreational drug use
- Routine hot tubs or saunas
- Blockage from infection or injury
2. Poor sperm morphology or motility.
Sometimes, sperm are misshapen (morphology) or they don’t move or swim as they need to (motility). Either of these can also affect fertility, regardless of a healthy sperm count.
All of the causes of low sperm count listed above can also affect sperm motility and morphology, as can:
- Inflammation in the testicles
- Malfunctioning testicles
- Infections or scarring from injury or STDs that disrupt sperm production
- Abnormally developed testicles
As with sperm count, sperm morphology and motility are determined via a sperm sample that’s evaluated in the lab. Keep in mind that while lab technicians are all trained to look for these things, lab technicians working for fertility centers or endocrinologists are more experienced at noticing sperm inconsistencies. If infertility is an issue, it’s worth having your sperm evaluated by a lab team specializing in infertility diagnoses.
3. Low testosterone or hormone imbalances
Sometimes hereditary disorders, medications or supplements or thyroid, gonad or pituitary issues cause low testosterone or other hormone imbalances that affect fertility. All are identified via blood tests and a thorough review of your personal and family medical history.
In some cases, lifestyle changes and hormonal support will raise sperm numbers up high enough to help you conceive at home. If not, we can look at other alternatives or begin discussing the idea of a sperm donor.
4. Tubal blockages
Sperm must move up and out of the testicles, and all the way through the urethra in order to move with ejaculate into the vagina and cervix. If any of the multiple different tubes required for this journey are blocked, sperm counts will suffer.
- Tubal blocks can occur as the result of:
- Post-surgical scarring
- Abnormal development
- Inherited conditions
Sometimes these blocks can be treated via surgery, others cannot.
5. Erectile dysfunction of any type
Sometimes, men suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) – ranging from the inability to get and/or sustain an erection, to delayed ejaculation, to premature ejaculation. Anyone of these makes conception more challenging.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to erectile dysfunction or problems with intercourse, ranging from stress or prior sexual trauma to medication conflicts, obesity, low testosterone, etc. If ED is an issue, we’ll work with you to find the cause to increase your chances of conception.
The sooner male infertility is accurately diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated so you can be on your way toward a healthy pregnancy, labor and delivery.
Is it taking you longer than expected to get pregnant? Contact us here at the Fertility Center of Dallas and we’ll schedule a consultation for a full fertility work-up.