Having a child should be an exciting time for you and your partner. Starting a family can bring joy and fulfillment into your lives in many ways, but on the other hand, the journey itself can be difficult if infertility becomes an issue.
Many people incorrectly assume that infertility is caused by the female partner, but that is not always—or even often—the case. Between 40%-50% of cases of infertility are caused by the male partner, and although there are issues that both partners can experience that may prevent them from being able to conceive, men are usually the factor that leads to either its failure or success.
Keep in mind, roughly 12% of couples worldwide experience infertility, and although it may seem like a small amount, that percentage can increase if certain measures aren’t being put into action. More than anything, you want to give yourself the best possible chance at having a healthy pregnancy, and that starts with understanding the common fertility problems that men face and how to alleviate them.
What is Male Infertility?
To put it simply, male infertility represents a man’s failure to achieve pregnancy in a female partner. This can be caused by several factors—medical, physical, and lifestyle—but the main factor that causes the inability is a deficiency in semen and semen quality.
Ideally, a healthy male should exhibit a moderate sperm count with adequate motility through the semen. In addition, the sperm itself must exhibit a healthy flow through its various parts of the body, as well as produce an amount that promotes a healthy chance of insemination.
Examining and improving semen levels is the number one way to combat male infertility. However, to achieve healthier conditions, it’s important to know what signs and health risks can get in the way.
Symptoms of Male Infertility
Unfortunately, there may not be any noticeable red flags that indicate a fertility issue, but there are several things to look out for that can give way to a potential threat.
Other than the ability to not conceive a child, a man may experience a handful of other issues that can represent an underlying problem:
- Issues with Sexual Activity
This includes any issues with the ejaculatory process, producing small amounts of semen, having a low sex drive, or having trouble maintaining an erection.
- Testicular Problems
Painful lumps or swelling in the testicles can indicate a tumor or infection that prevents healthy activity.
- Health Issues or Hormonal Abnormalities
Frequent respiratory infections, a loss of smell, a loss of facial or body hair, and substantial hormonal changes have all been linked to cases of infertility in men.
It can be frustrating since there are no clear signs of infertility, but these examples can help create a foundation of where to start. In addition, there are some major medical and physical causes that directly contribute to male infertility, which can be addressed to provide answers.
Medical and Physical Causes of Male Infertility
Along with having a low sperm count and poor sperm quality, there are many medical and physical conditions that can cause infertility in men. As mentioned above, signs of infection, ejaculatory issues, decreased sex drive, tumors, and hormonal changes each can offer possible symptoms, but here are some other causes to consider that you may not be aware of:
- Undescended Testicles
When one or both testicles never descend into the scrotum. Men who experience this are less likely to exhibit healthy fertility levels.
When swelling occurs in the veins that relieve the testicles.
- Various Infections
Infections within the passageways that sperm travels can cause inflammation, pain, and swelling to other parts of the ejaculatory system, which may cause infertility. Also, sexually transmitted diseases—gonorrhea and HIV—have the potential to inflict testicular damage.
- Immune System Antibodies
In some cases, the immune system will create antibodies that detect sperm cells as a threat and will try to remove them.
- Blocked or Defective Sperm Tubules
Sperm is carried through many tubes in the reproductive organ, and it has the possibility of not transferring properly if those tubes are damaged or blocked in any way.
- Genetic Disorders
Klinefelter’s syndrome is a genetic disorder where a male is born with two X chromosomes, rather than an X and Y chromosome. The defect causes issues with the male’s reproductive organ that prevent or stifle the flow of semen. Cystic fibrosis, Kallmann’s syndrome and Kartagener’s syndrome can also cause problems.
- Celiac Disease
The ingestion of gluten has the potential of causing male infertility.
- Medications or Treatments
Chemotherapy, steroids, various ulcer and anti-fungal medications have been linked to reducing sperm levels.
- Past Surgeries
A history of surgeries related to the testicular, prostate, and abdominal areas can cause issues with sperm flow and production. Of course, a vasectomy will stop the production of sperm, but most issues related to surgical procedures can be fixed with another surgery.
After understanding the medical and physical hurdles, the next thing to be aware of when it comes to male infertility is that lifestyle choices often play a huge role in determining a man’s ability to conceive.
Common Lifestyle Causes of Male Infertility
Living a healthy lifestyle is extremely important when trying to start a family. At first, a man might think that his habits, recreations, and vices may not have an immediate effect on his sperm levels, but studies show that certain choices can be damaging to their fertility if they’re not careful.
- Drugs and Alcohol
Both drug and alcohol use have the ability to decrease sperm production. Excessive drinking can also lower testosterone levels, cause erectile dysfunction, and cause liver damage that can promote infertility. The use of steroids may cause testicles to decrease in size and diminish sperm count, and ingesting cocaine or smoking marijuana can significantly damage sperm quality.
- Smoking Cigarettes
Smoking cigarettes can potentially lead to a lower sperm count—among other health problems—and second-hand smoke can also make an impact on one’s fertility levels.
- Mental and Emotional Stress
Hormones can be affected when mental and emotional stress takes a toll on the individual. Long bouts of depression, anxiety, or other issues can lead to a decreased sperm count and infertility.
Being overweight can cause damage to sperm cells through drastic hormonal changes in the body that result in male infertility.
The causes listed above are the best things to avoid in order to promote a healthy lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean those are the only things that should be done. Exercising regularly, eating healthy foods, and staying away from harmful environmental conditions should also be incorporated into one’s life to ensure a proper balance.
Taking Ownership and Consulting with a Fertility Specialist
Now that you know the difficulties that men face with infertility, you can begin to take ownership of the problem and find ways to solve it. By following the guidelines listed above, managing yours and your partner’s life can be an experience that you share together. Regardless of the fault being directed toward a man or woman—the point is that conceiving a child is a joint effort that requires responsibility and dedication from both parties, and that commitment is what will help you become even better parents!
Remember, issues of infertility are common, and many people need help to understand and fix their problems. That’s why consulting with a fertility specialist can be a great way to discuss your issues and seek a solution. Sometimes, facing problems on your own can be difficult, and having a third-party analyze your situation may be just the thing you need to get your family started on the right path. If you have questions or concerns about you and your partner’s attempts at getting pregnant, make an appointment with a specialist and take hold of your future.