Common Causes of Male Infertility
Male infertility may be caused by low sperm count, abnormal sperm, failure to ejaculate, exposing the testes to high temperatures and blocked sperm ducts.
Infertility is not always a female problem. Approximately 30% cases are due to male infertility, 30% female infertility and the remaining 40% unexplained causes of various factors involving both partners.
In general, the male fertility process involves the production of healthy and mature sperm and getting the sperm to reach and fertilize an egg. Some men become infertile mainly because of abnormalities and defects in the male reproductive system. The following are some common causes of male infertility.
Low Sperm Count
Low sperm count is a major cause of male infertility. The normal range of sperm count is between 35 and 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. An infertile man may have none to lower than the average number. There are no visible symptoms for this problem and most affected men will not know about it until tests have been carried out.
Some men have sperm that are not properly formed. The abnormally shaped sperm causes difficulty to fertilize an egg. Another type of abnormal sperm are sperm with low motility. That means the sperm cannot travel fast enough or are agile enough to reach the egg.
Failure to Ejaculate
Some men are infertile because of failure to ejaculate. During intercourse, these men suffer from retrograde ejaculation, where the semen is ejaculated backwards into the bladder instead of the vagina. Without sperm, egg fertilization and implantation cannot take place.
Exposing Testes to High Temperatures
Exposing the testes to high temperatures can affect the ability of the sperm to move and fertilize an egg. For instance, men with cryptorchism have testicles that do not descent into the scrotum. That means the testes are still inside the body cavity, which has a higher temperature than the external scrotum.
Men who wear tight underwear and pants also expose their testes to high temperatures. Another condition that raises the temperature in the testes is varicocele, or enlarged veins, in the scrotum.
Blocked Sperm Ducts Blocked sperm ducts are also to blame for male infertility. A small number of men have vas deferens or sperm ducts that are blocked or damaged. This prevents the sperm from reaching the partner's egg. Blocked sperm ducts can be a result of an infection such as mumps, injury to the testicles, congenital defects or a vasectomy.
Some men become infertile for a number of reasons. Low sperm count, abnormal sperm, failure to ejaculate, exposing the testes to high temperatures and blocked sperm ducts have been identified as the common causes of male infertility.
Age: Gradually, a male's increasing age can cause both his sperm count and sperm motility to decline.
Low semen levels: Some men have low semen levels when they ejaculate, and the sperm does not have enough elasticity to reach the egg.
Auto-antibodies: In this case, the immune system attacks cells in the body, such as sperm, and causes the sperm to stick together and become incapable of penetrating an egg.
Retrograde ejaculation: Sperm, when ejaculated, goes upward into the bladder instead of outward. This affects sperm quality and is often caused by surgery, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, or certain medications.
Birth defect: Men born with testicles that did not descend, with no testes at all, with a blockage in the tube that transports sperm, or some other defect of the testes or urinary opening can all have difficulty conceiving.
Cancer: Some cancers, especially testicular cancer, impair sperm production. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation damage sperm quality and quantity.
Medications: Anabolic steroids, Tagamet, Mellaril, and other medications have been known to impair fertility.
Varicocele: The veins that carry blood away from the testicles become enlarged or twisted.
Testicular torsion: The blood supply to the testicle is cut off because of a twisting or deformity of the tubes that run to the testicles.
Genetics: Many sperm have chromosomal defects. However, infertile men tend to have a higher percentage of damaged sperm, which can make a successful pregnancy difficult. Often, if a woman does conceive, the defective genetic material passes onto the offspring, and the fetus will be deformed or the pregnancy involuntarily terminated. While every man has a certain percentage of defective sperm, those with a parent who had biological infertility issues have a higher rate of infertility themselves. Also, cystic fibrosis patients and people suffering from other chromosomal disorders can have basic sperm impairments.
Environment: Exposure to toxins, chemicals, or infections can reduce sperm count. High levels of oxidants can also damage the genetic material in sperm cells. Exposure to pesticides and other chemicals like Bisphenol A, phthalates, and organochlorines increases risk of poor sperm development. There is also a possibility of sperm damage from exposure to hydrocarbons and heavy metals such as lead or cadmium.
Physical stress: This can reduce sperm count and impair sperm motility. Physical stress includes: Testicular overheating caused by fever, hot tubs, tight fitting underwear, or persistent exposure to high temperatures; the use of illegal drugs, cigarettes, or excessive alcohol; men who are malnourished or obese, and men who excessively exercise. Also, men who have infections caused by sexually transmitted diseases, mumps, or infections of the prostate gland, testicle, or urethra can suffer infertility.
Mental stress: Emotional stress or turmoil can also reduce sperm county and motility.
Other Causes: Low levels of testosterone, liver disease, sickle cell anemia, and kidney disease can all cause male infertility. Patients with Down syndrome can also have difficulty conceiving.
Preventing Male Infertility
While not all cases of male infertility can be prevented, there are some things that can be done to avoid the condition. Men planning to conceive should:
- Have regular physical examinations
- Talk to their doctor about any medications they are taking that can impair fertility
- Discontinue use of drugs and reduce alcohol intake
- Keep any diseases or disorders under control
- Practice safe sex and obtain treatment for sexually transmitted diseases
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Wear loose fitting underwear or pants
- Avoid frequent hot baths or hot tubs
- Avoid excessive exercise
- Avoid exposure to environmental hazards such as pesticides
- Wear scrotal protection during sports activities
After The Diagnosis
Once the cause of male infertility is diagnosed, he may undergo one of several treatments. Among these include:
With time, patience, and determination, a man can understand the cause of his infertility and seek treatment to achieve a pregnancy.
- Artificial insemination, in which the sperm is placed directly into the cervix or uterus
- In-vitro fertilization, in which the sperm and egg are united outside the womb and then replaced into the uterus
- Intracytoplasmic sperm injection, in which invididual sperm are directly inserted into a woman's egg