A couple trying to conceive a child for longer than 12 months by having unprotected, regular sexual intercourse without success is considered infertile. The problem with fertility may affect a woman or a man. Sometimes even both can be affected by certain conditions affecting the process of fertilization and subsequent implantation of the egg.
Male Infertility and Its Characteristics
In case of male infertility, pregnancy does not occur in spite of a fertile female because there is some problem regarding the man. So, the man simply cannot conceive a child despite perfect health and fertility of his partner and all other circumstances necessary for fertilization to take place. Usually, there are no clear symptoms and signs of male infertility. However, some men actually have problems with their sexual function. Namely, they may face problems with reaching orgasm or suffer from delayed ejaculation. Moreover, some even suffer from erectile dysfunction which in the first place affects normal intercourse and additionally affects conception.
Physical examination as well as specific tests and exams are of major importance for identifying the underlying cause of infertility. For instance, lack/decrease of body hair along with gynecomastia may point to androgen deficiency. Furthermore, physical exam may point to certain anatomical abnormalities regarding testicles or penis. Irregularities of paratesticular area can be reported as well. As for sperm sample and semen analysis, this test provides with sufficient information about the sperm quality and its ability to fertilize the egg. Such testing evaluates the volume of the sperm sample, number of total sperm cells, sperm motility and percentage of sperm that is of normal morphology. Testing may confirm oligospermia, aspermia, hypospermia, azoospermia, teratospermia, asthenozoospermia, all of which are pathological findings and potential culprits of male infertility.
Male Infertility Underlying Causes
All causes of male infertility can be considered as pre-testicular causes, testicular causes and post-testicular causes.
Pre-testicular causes include all the conditions in the body, factors as well as substances introduced into the body that impede adequate support of the testicles and interfere with proper function of these male organs. These include hypogonadotropic hypogonadism of different origin, obesity, uncontrollable use of alcohol and illicit drugs, strenuous riding (both bicycle and horseback riding), intake of certain medications and genetic abnormalities. It is essential to mention tobacco smoking as one of major contributors to male infertility. It has been confirmed that tobacco smoking actually destroys sperm cells and reduces their number.
Testicular factors associated with male infertility include certain illnesses of the testicles and treatments that may have led to their inadequate function. For example, inadequate production of the sperm or production of the sperm of low quality may be a consequence of varicocele, infections (usually STDs like gonorrhea or chlamydia), benign or malignant tumors of the testicle and undescended testicles. Radiation therapy of the genital area may also damage testicles and cause male infertility.
Finally, post- testicular causes of infertility include all the problems with male reproductive system affecting the pathway of the sperm which is released from the testicles and is supposed to be expelled via ejaculation. These include retrograde ejaculation, sperm duct defects, problems with sexual intercourse like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, painful intercourse etc.
Male and Female Fertility Statistical Data
Infertility in general affects more women than men. In fact, according to statistical data around 20% of infertility cases are because of male issues while 40-50% of infertility cases are a consequence of female reproductive issues. The remnant 30-40% is a combination of problems affecting both partners.
Male Infertility Treatment Options
It is essential to exclude female infertility completely and then confirm male fertility and identify the underlying cause of the problem. Only then the doctor may opt for the most convenient treatment option a man is going to pursue.
Pre-testicular conditions are treated by discontinuation of bad habits (smoking and alcohol cessation, cessation of illicit drugs etc.). Some conditions affecting male hormones are treated with medications, while drugs that may interfere in normal production of the semen may be discontinued or replaced.
Testicular causes of male infertility require specific approach. Since in this case the quality of the semen is not so good, a couple may try intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization or even intracytoplasmic sperm injection. But even these approaches do not guarantee conception.
Post-testicular infertility causes such as obstruction are treated surgically while other causes of this type of male infertility also require assisted reproduction techniques.
Male Infertility Prevention
All in all, even though the very word infertility sounds frightening and many men fear of hearing it, there are ways to treat the problem and preventive measures that may be helpful in avoiding the condition in the first place.
By not smoking at all as well as abstaining from excessive drinking and illegal drugs one may remain fertile for a long period of time. Also by maintaining optimal weight and managing stress the chances of infertility are reduced. Finally, be careful when engaging in sports by wearing protective cups and jockstraps and abstain from riding long distances in order to preserve fertility.