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Infertility in Men

(Male Infertility)

Definition

Infertility is not being able to conceive after a year of regular, unprotected sex. About one-third of infertility is caused by male factors and one-third are caused by female factors. In the remaining cases, the cause is unknown or is related to problems with both partners.

Men are considered infertile if they:

  • Produce too few sperm cells
  • Produce sperm cells of poor quality
  • Have chronic problems with ejaculation

The Male Reproductive System

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Causes    TOP

Portions of the brain called the pituitary gland and hypothalamus, as well as male reproductive organs such as the testes affect fertility in men. Problems in any of these areas may decrease fertility.

In about half of the cases, a cause cannot be found. Some factors that can contribute to infertility include:

  • Genetic diseases such as Klinefelter syndrome and Sertoli-Leydig cell syndrome
  • Exposure to workplace chemicals or heavy metals, such as primarily lead and cadmium
  • Tobacco and marijuana use
  • Enlarged veins within the scrotum—varicocele
  • Abnormal hormone levels
  • Infections
  • Physical abnormalities
  • Cancer
  • Medications
  • Obesity
  • Chronic diseases such as sickle cell anemia
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Anti-sperm antibodies

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of developing infertility include:

Symptoms    TOP

Inability to have a child after one year of trying to conceive.

Diagnosis    TOP

During the first visit, you and your partner will both be evaluated. You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and work history. Your doctor will look for potential exposure to certain chemicals. Your doctor will also look for physical problems that might cause infertility.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Semen analysis
  • Biopsy

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Other tests may include:

  • Fertilization tests—to determine how well the sperm can penetrate an egg
  • Post-coital test—to check if your sperm is compatible with the mucus in your partner's cervix

Treatment    TOP

Treatment depends on what is causing the condition. Treatments can be costly and lengthy. They often are not covered by insurance.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes may include:

Medication

If you have a hormonal imbalance, your doctor may prescribe medication. Clomiphene citrate, for example, is an anti-estrogen drug. In combination with vitamin E, it may help increase sperm count and improve sperm movement.

Surgery    TOP

Surgery is done for conditions like varicocele that can affect fertility. Treatment of a varicocele does not always restore fertility.

Surgery may also be done to reverse a vasectomy. This reversal is not always successful.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART)    TOP

ART involves using human sperm and eggs or embryos in a lab to help with conception. The eggs and sperm can be from you and your partner or donated. ART methods include:

  • Artificial insemination—Semen is collected and processed in a lab. It is then inserted directly into the woman's cervix or uterus.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF)—An egg is removed from the woman's body and mixed with sperm in a lab. The egg and sperm mixture or a 2-3 day old embryo is then placed in the uterus.
  • Gamete or zygote intrafallopian transfer (GIFT or ZIFT)—An egg is removed from the woman's body and mixed with sperm in a lab. The egg and sperm mixture or a 2-3 day old embryo is then placed in the fallopian tube.
  • Blastocyst intrafallopian transfer—An egg is removed from the woman's body. The egg is injected with sperm and allowed to develop. It is later implanted into the uterus.
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection—A single sperm is injected into the egg. The resulting embryo can be implanted into the uterus or frozen for later use.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chances of infertility:

  • Avoid:
    • Use of tobacco, marijuana, opiates, and anabolic steroids
    • Exposure to harmful chemicals and heavy metals
    • Excessive use of alcohol
  • Protect yourself from STDs by using condoms. Minimize the number of sexual partners you have.

RESOURCES:

Reproductive Facts—American Society for Reproductive Medicine
http://www.reproductivefacts.org
Resolve—The National Infertility Association
https://resolve.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Sex & U—the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
https://www.sexandu.ca

References:

Infertility. Protect Your Fertility website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed December 18, 2017.
Infertility in men. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902812/Infertility-in-men. Updated December 4, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Jorgensen N, Carlsen E, Nermoen I, et al. East-West gradient in semen quality in the Nordic-Baltic area: a study of men from the general population in Denmark, Norway, Estonia and Finland. Hum Reprod. 2002;17(8):2199-2208.
Reproductive health and the workplace. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro. Updated April 20, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
9/2/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902812/Infertility-in-men: Ghanem H, Shaeer O, El-Segini A. Combination clomiphene citrate and antioxidant therapy for idiopathic male infertility: a randomized controlled trial. Fertil Steril. 2010;93(7):2232-2235.
2/14/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T902812/Infertility-in-men: Showell M, Brown J, Yazdani A, Stankiewicz M, Hart R. Antioxidants for male subfertility. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(1):CD007411.
Last reviewed December 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
Last Updated: 1/29/2018

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