Infertility in men, or male infertility, is a medical condition that affects a man’s ability to father a child. It can be caused by various factors, including low sperm count, poor sperm quality, or blockages in the reproductive system. Male infertility can also result from some health conditions.
While some of these causes are out of our control, there are lifestyle choices that can impact male fertility.
For example, smoking cigarettes reduces sperm count and motility, while exposure to certain toxins and chemicals can negatively affect sperm health. So it’s important to understand how male infertility comes about so that you can prevent it or improve your condition.
What Is Infertility?
Infertility is the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex. It affects both men and women and can be caused by a variety of factors. In some cases, the cause of infertility is unknown.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10% of couples in the United States have trouble conceiving a child. Of these couples, approximately one-third are due to female infertility, one-third are due to male infertility, and the remaining third is caused by a combination of both male and female factors or by unknown causes.
Infertility can be a devastating diagnosis for couples who want to have children. It can be emotionally and financially draining and often requires extensive medical treatment.
However, many couples who are facing infertility go on to have successful pregnancies with the help of fertility treatments.
What Causes Infertility In Men?
There are many possible causes of infertility in males, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. However, some common causes include:
1. Hormonal Imbalance
It’s no secret that hormones play a key role in fertility. They are responsible for regulating the reproductive system, and when they are out of balance, it can lead to problems conceiving.
For men, when the levels of testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are off, it can impact sperm production and quality, leading to infertility.
There are a number of things that can cause hormonal imbalance, including stress, weight gain or loss, and certain medical conditions. In some cases, the cause is unknown.
If you’re struggling to get a woman pregnant, it’s important to talk to your doctor about whether hormonal imbalance could be the cause. A number of tests can be done to check your hormone levels, and treatment options are available if an imbalance is found.
Varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum (the sac containing the testes). This condition is found in about 15% of all men, and although some men may still be able to father a child, some may not.
Varicocele can cause infertility by affecting the quality of sperm produced in the testes. Healthy sperm production can only occur in low temperatures. So the scrotum helps regulate the temperature of the testicles. If the scrotum is too warm (which is the case with varicocele), it may result in low-quality sperm.
Also, the veins in the testicles are responsible for carrying nutrients and oxygen to the sperm. When these veins become enlarged, it can prevent the sperm from getting the nutrients and oxygen they need to survive.
While a man’s reproductive system is designed to protect his sperm from infection, sometimes bacteria and viruses can enter through the urethra and cause an infection in the epididymis —the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles, which can produce scarring and block the passage of sperm.
Infection can also damage sperm-producing cells.
Infections that can cause male infertility include:
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. It is the most common STI in the United States and can damage the testicles, epididymis, and sperm ducts, causing inflammation and scarring.
Gonorrhea is another STI caused by bacteria. It can also infect the testicles, epididymis, and sperm ducts, causing inflammation and scarring.
HIV attacks immune cells and can damage the testicles, leading to lower testosterone levels and decreased sperm production. AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection and can cause a complete cessation of sperm production.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It can damage the testicles, epididymis, and sperm ducts, causing inflammation and scarring.
These are just a few of the infections that can cause male infertility. If you have any concerns about your fertility, be sure to get checked for infections.
4. Sexual problems
Sexual problems that can cause male infertility include erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and low libido.
Erectile dysfunction is when a man cannot get or maintain an erection.
Premature ejaculation is when a man ejaculates too soon during sex.
Low libido is when a man has a decreased interest in sex
These sexual problems can be caused by various things, such as psychological issues, physical issues, or a combination of both. Certain medications can also contribute.
If you are having any of these sexual problems, it’s important to see a doctor so they can help you determine the cause and find the best treatment option for you.
5. Environmental toxins
According to the World Health Organization, male infertility is on the rise, and environmental toxins are a major contributing factor.
Studies have shown that exposure to certain chemicals can damage sperm DNA, reduce sperm count and motility, and cause testicular cancer.
Some of the most common environmental toxins that have been linked to male infertility include:
Pesticides are widely used in agriculture and have been shown to cause a variety of health problems, including reproductive problems.
A recent study found that men who were exposed to high levels of organophosphate pesticide had significantly reduced semen quality, with lower sperm count and increased sperm damage.
Lead is a heavy metal that can be found in a variety of products, including paint and gasoline.
Exposure to lead has been linked to reduced sperm count, motility, and viability. It has also been shown to lower libido, interfere with sperm DNA, as well as increase morphological abnormalities.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a chemical used in plastics and has been shown to disrupt hormone function.
Studies have linked BPA exposure to reduced sperm count, as well as increased risk of testicular cancer.
Phthalates are chemicals used in a variety of products, including cosmetics, food packaging, and children’s toys. Studies have linked phthalate exposure to reduced sperm count and motility, as well as increased risk of testicular cancer.
Dioxins are industrial pollutants that can be found in the air, soil, and water. Exposure to dioxins has been linked to decreased sperm count and increased DNA damage.
Many different genetic disorders can cause male infertility. Some of these disorders are passed down from the parents, while others occur spontaneously from a mutation that causes a change in the DNA
The most common genetic disorder that causes male infertility is Klinefelter syndrome.
This syndrome occurs when a boy is born with an extra X chromosome ( instead of one X and one Y). This causes abnormal development of the reproductive organs.
Boys with Klinefelter syndrome often have low levels of testosterone and may have problems with their testicles and sperm production.
Other genetic disorders that can cause male infertility include Cystic fibrosis, Sickle cell disease, Thalassemia, and Hemophilia.
These disorders can cause problems with the testicles, sperm production, or the transportation of sperm.
In some cases, surgery may be able to correct the problem. However, in other cases, the only treatment option is assisted reproductive technologies (ART), such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
While the effects of stress on fertility in men are not as well-known as they are for women, it is clear that stress can have a negative impact on a man’s ability to conceive.
Stress can interfere with the production of sperm and lower a man’s sex drive. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction and other problems that make it difficult to have sex.
In addition, stress can cause changes in hormone levels that can impact fertility.
For example, cortisol is a stress hormone that can reduce the production of testosterone, which is necessary for sperm production. When testosterone levels are low, sperm count and quality may also be affected.
Cortisol can also make the testicles less responsive to signals from the pituitary gland, further reducing testosterone production.
Moreover, stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices that can impact fertility, such as smoking or drinking alcohol.
If you’re trying to conceive, it’s important to manage your stress levels.
Consider talking to your doctor about ways to reduce stress or seeking out counseling or therapy if needed.
Surgery can cause infertility in men due to the damage it can do to the reproductive organs.
The testicles, for example, are very sensitive to trauma and can be easily damaged during surgery. This can lead to the loss of function and, eventually, infertility.
Additionally, surgery on the seminal vesicles or vas deferens can also cause infertility.
These are the ducts that transport sperm from the testicles to the penis, and if they are damaged, sperm will not be able to reach the penis.
Finally, a surgery that results in scarring around the urethra can also block sperm from being ejaculated. All of these factors can lead to infertility in men who have undergone surgery.
Medications that are known to cause infertility in men include anabolic steroids, chemotherapy drugs, and some antidepressants.
Anabolic steroids are often used by athletes to increase muscle mass and strength. However, they can also have a negative impact on fertility. Anabolic steroids can reduce sperm production, lower testosterone levels, and cause testicular shrinkage.
Chemotherapy drugs are used to treat cancer, but they can also have a detrimental effect on fertility. They can damage the DNA of sperm cells, making them less likely to fertilize an egg.
Some antidepressants are also known to cause fertility problems in men. These medications can interfere with hormone levels and affect sperm production.
Lifestyle Habits That Increase The Risk Of Infertility In Men
In addition to the above infertility causes, some lifestyle habits may accelerate infertility in men.
These must therefore be avoided in addition to seeking a specific treatment for the root cause of one’s infertility.
- Smoking: tobacco use can damage the DNA in sperm, making it less likely to fertilize an egg. It can also cause erectile dysfunction.
- Drinking: excessive alcohol consumption can decrease testosterone levels and sperm count. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
- Drug use: elicit drug use can affect fertility. Marijuana, for example, has been shown to lower testosterone levels and sperm count. Cocaine use can damage the DNA in sperm.
- Obesity: being overweight can lead to a number of fertility problems, including low testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction.
- Poor diet: a diet high in processed foods and low in nutrients can contribute to infertility. Eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help improve fertility.
Male Infertility Diagnosis
There are a few different ways that doctors can diagnose infertility in men. One of the most common ways is to do a semen analysis. This test looks at the quantity and quality of a man’s sperm.
Another way to diagnose infertility is through a hormone test. This test measures the levels of certain hormones in a man’s blood. These hormones play an important role in reproduction.
In some cases, doctors may also recommend a genetic test. This test can help to identify any genetic abnormalities that may be causing infertility.
And in case of injuries, imaging and radiological exams may be needed.
Once a diagnosis has been made, doctors will work with patients to develop a treatment plan. This plan may include medication, surgery, or assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
Male infertility is the inability to father a child. It can occur as a result of different factors that may lead to low sperm count, poor quality sperm, sperm DNA damage, hormone imbalances, and sperm blockage, all of which can lead to infertility.
If you are concerned about your fertility, it is important to seek professional help on the cause of your infertility, treatment, and probable outcomes.
Also, making simple changes to your lifestyle, like quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise can help.