Male Factor Infertility: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Man and a doctor discussing male factor infertility

What is Male Factor Infertility?

Male factor infertility refers to infertility that specifically involves the man, and it occurs in over one-third of all cases of infertility. Most often, it is caused by complications in the production or delivery of sperm.

Male factor infertility reduces the chances of a female partner getting pregnant. Infertility is typically defined as an inability to conceive after having sex at least two times per week for a year or more.

Your fertility as a man depends on your sperm numbers and sperm health. It is extremely difficult to successfully conceive if you have an abnormal sperm count or the condition of your sperm is poor.

It’s best to seek the help of a fertility expert if you are aware of any issues you may have that could affect the chances of having a baby. Ideally, both you and your partner should be checked for any potential problems with reproduction.

What is the Rate of Male Factor Infertility?

Research shows that 15% of couples cannot conceive after one year of unprotected sexual activity. Additionally, 10% are still unsuccessful after two years.(1)

Couples younger than 30 and in good health can conceive 20-37% of the time within the first three months.(2)

In around 20% of cases, infertility only occurs due to the male partner. Another 30% of infertility cases are caused by issues with both partners.

About 1 in 20 men has a low sperm count which can lead to infertility. Approximately 1 in 100 men don’t produce any sperm at all, a condition known as azoospermia.

Signs of male Factor Infertility

In most cases, there are no obvious signs of infertility. Your sexual performance, erections, and ejaculation will all seem to be normal.

Fertility testing is the only way to positively identify the source of the infertility.

Causes of Male Factor Infertility

Conditions that affect sperm production or sperm movement can cause infertility. These problems can often be discovered by undergoing various medical tests.

Around two-thirds of infertile men experience problems with low sperm counts and/or improperly functioning sperm cells.

About 20% of men with infertility have issues due to physical causes, such as having had a vasectomy and now wanting to have children. Sperm can also be prevented from being ejaculated if there are obstructions or blockages in the tubes that transport sperm in the testicles.

Approximately 10-15% of men with male factor infertility, there is a complete absence of sperm production. This condition is known as azoospermia.

The following are other causes of male infertility that are less common:

  • Sexual performance problems – Semen is not able to be ejaculated into the vagina.
  • Hormonal imbalance – A deficiency in hormones that affect the testicles and sperm production.
  • Antisperm antibodies – When the immune system attacks sperm cells as invaders.

Sometimes, male infertility can be caused by genetic factors. Impaired production or transport of sperm can be caused by genetic mutations or changes in chromosomes.

Genetic causes of infertility are usually chromosomal conditions that have a negative affect on sperm production.

Although rare, male infertility could be caused by DNA mutations. There is a good chance that genetic conditions that are not yet known will be discovered in the future. This will help to identify problems in sperm production that have no discernable cause.

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How A Doctor Diagnoses Male Factor Infertility

Your doctor will usually review your medical history, give you a physical exam and perform a semen analysis to check the quality and numbers of your sperm.

A blood test may be performed by your doctor to determine the level of hormones that are linked to sperm formation. Sometimes, he or she may perform a urinalysis in order to test for the presence or absence of sperm cells. This can be caused by a condition known as retrograde ejaculation.

Your doctor might also recommend imaging testing, such as an ultrasound or MRI, or having a testicular biopsy performed. This is a minor procedure to remove a tiny amount of testicular tissue for testing.

Treatment For Male Factor Infertility

Although there are a number of treatments available for male infertility, their success will depend on the underlying cause. 1 in 8 men who are infertile are able to be treated and, if successful, they will be able naturally conceive a child.

Very often, big improvements can be made to your sperm count by simply adding sperm-boosting foods into your daily diet, and by taking male fertility supplements.

Your doctor might recommend assisted reproductive treatment for you or your partner in certain circumstances. Although these procedures won’t cure the source of your infertility, they can help you and your partner get pregnant, even if you have a significantly low sperm count.

There are currently no treatments for genetic-based infertility. If you are unable to naturally have children, assisted reproductive technology may be the best option.

Can You Prevent Male Factor Infertility?

You can help maintain optimal sperm production by avoiding certain things that could negatively impact sperm health, such as:

  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Wearing tight underwear.
  • Using anabolic steroids
  • Exposure to toxins in the workplace

How Does Age Affect  Fertility In Men?

Men in their 70s or older who are otherwise healthy can still have children. However, men beyond the age of 40 may need more time to achieve pregnancy.

There are many possible reasons for this, including less frequent sexual activity, reduced semen volume, altered sperm motility, or decreased sperm quality and function.

Older men are more likely to have a child with a genetic or chromosomal disorder.

Conclusion

Infertility affects many couples. You and your partner should visit your doctor if you have been trying to conceive for more than 12 months.

Both partners need to have medical testing, even if one of them has had a child in a previous relationship. If you are experiencing infertility it could indicate that you may have another undiagnosed health condition.

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References:

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320010
  2. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menshealth/conditioninfo/infertility#f3

 

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