Contributed by – Preksha Buttan
A diagnosis of infertility is given when a couple is not able to conceive a child even after having unprotected sexual intercourse for a year or more. Traditionally, it was thought of as a women’s problem. But as it turns out, fertility issues in men are as common as they are in women.
The problem could be with sperm production or sperm function. Or, there could be blockages that prevent the delivery of the sperm. Wondering why such issues occur? Let’s understand them here.
Symptoms of infertility in men
The only sign of infertility in men is the inability to conceive a child. Other than that, you may not see any other obvious signs and symptoms. However, if an underlying problem such as hormonal imbalance or a disorder is the cause of infertility, the following symptoms can be spotted –
- Problems with sexual intercourse (difficulty with ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, etc)
- Pain or swelling in the testicle area
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Reduced ability to smell
- Abnormal breast growth
- Decreased facial and body hair
Causes of infertility in men
Just like female fertility, male fertility is a complex process. To get your partner pregnant the following SHOULD happen
- You must produce healthy sperm
- The sperm has to be carried into semen
- Semen should have enough number of sperm in it
- Sperm must be functional and able to move
So, what conditions can become a hindrance in this process?
There are medical issues, environmental issues, and lifestyle issues.
[Also read – Infertility in women: What are the possible causes?]
Medical causes of infertility in men
Varicocele is a swelling in the scrotum (the sac containing the testes). It occurs when the veins draining blood from the testes get enlarged. Though the exact cause is unknown, it is related to abnormal testicular temperature regulation. Fortunately, this condition is reversible.
Some infections interfere with sperm production and sperm health. They can also cause scarring that blocks the passage of sperm. Epididymitis, orchitis, gonorrhea, and HIV are some known such infections. While some of these infections are reversible, others can cause permanent damage.
Inability to ejaculate semen or semen entering the bladder instead of emerging out of the penis (a condition called retrograde ejaculation) is amongst the common causes of infertility in men. These conditions often occur due to various health issues including diabetes, spinal injuries, prior surgeries, or medications.
Sometimes, your own body attacks the sperm. Your immune system might produce anti-sperm antibodies which mistakenly identifies sperm as harmful invaders and tries to eliminate them.
Cancers or even non-cancerous tumors can directly affect the reproductive organs of males. They can influence the organs that release hormones related to reproduction, like the pituitary gland. Sometimes, radiation and chemotherapy used to treat these tumors can also affect fertility.
Testicle disorders or any abnormality affecting the hormonal system (such as the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands) is another common cause of infertility in men. These issues with hormones can have various underlying causes.
Defects of tubules
Many tubes carry sperm. They can be blocked or damaged because of injury from surgery, prior infections, abnormal development, or certain inherited conditions.
Problems with sexual intercourse
Erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, painful intercourse, or psychological or relationship problems can also potentially cause infertility in men.
[Also read – Pain during sex can happen even if you are not pregnant]
Environmental causes of infertility in men
Exposure to chemicals and metals
Exposure to chemicals such as benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, painting materials or heavy metals like lead can contribute to low sperm count and cause infertility.
High temperature can hamper sperm production and their function. Frequent use of saunas, hot tubs or wearing tight clothes can increase the temperature in your scrotum and reduce sperm production.
Exposure to radiation or X-rays can reduce sperm production, but it eventually gets normal. Sometimes, when the dose of radiation is high, permanent damage can occur.
Lifestyle and other causes of infertility in men
Drug, alcohol and tobacco use
Use of steroids, cocaine, marijuana, tobacco, or high consumption of alcohol can reduce sperm production, cause erectile dysfunction, and disbalance your hormones. All of this can become the cause of infertility.
Stress can throw the hormones necessary for sperm production out of balance. If it’s chronic, it can also affect your sperm count.
[Also read – Stress and Sex: What is the connection?]
Obesity can affect your fertility in many ways. It can directly impact the sperm or cause changes in your hormonal balance – all of which is a cause of infertility.
Infertility can sure seem like the biggest challenge of life. But, it can be dealt with if the correct cause is identified. If you notice any symptoms, be sure to report them to the doctor without any delay. Because with timely diagnosis chances of successful treatment increase.
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