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What is male infertility?
Infertility is the state of being unable to get pregnant. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, about 15% of couples are infertile after they have been trying to get pregnant for one year with no success.
Symptoms of male infertility
Typically, men do not have symptoms of infertility. Contact your doctor if you have tried to get pregnant for one year without the use of birth control and your partner has not gotten pregnant.
What causes male infertility?
The most common cause of male infertility is a varicocele. It occurs when you have enlarged veins in your scrotum. This is the skin sac that hangs behind your penis. A varicocele can occur on one or both sides. It makes the inside of your scrotum warmer, which reduces sperm production. Age can also be a factor. Fertility starts to decrease in men after age 35.
Other causes include:
- a blockage in your reproductive system
- undescended testicles
- low sperm count
- sperm that are abnormally shaped or that don’t move correctly
- hormone problems
- certain health conditions, such as cancer
- some medicines
- an infection or sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- erectile dysfunction.
Sometimes the cause of male infertility is unknown. In these cases, it may be genetic, lifestyle, or environmental factors.
How is male infertility diagnosed?
For most men, a doctor can help find the cause of infertility. It may be a related health problem. Your doctor will do an exam and review your medical history. A semen analysis will tell your sperm count and quality. These are important aspects of fertility. Another test your doctor may do is a check of your hormone levels.
Can male infertility be prevented or avoided?
You cannot always prevent male infertility. However, there are factors that can affect this condition that you should avoid. These include:
- alcohol abuse
- drug abuse
- emotional stress
- overheated testicles, which can kill sperm. This can occur from frequent hot tub use or wearing underwear or pants that are too tight.
Male infertility treatment
More than half of male infertility cases can be corrected. Treatment options depend on the root cause. Medicine can improve hormone levels or erectile dysfunction. Surgery can help correct physical problems, such as a varicocele. It also can repair blockages or other damage. Surgery often is minor and done as an outpatient procedure.
Living with male infertility
There is not always a cure for male infertility. Treatment may not help or a couple still might not be able to get pregnant through sexual intercourse. In this case, your doctor may suggest other options to make a baby. Assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments can include:
- Intrauterine insemination (IUI). A man’s sperm is collected and inserted into the woman’s uterus. This procedure is done at the time of ovulation.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF). This technique is more complex. A man’s sperm and a woman’s egg are fertilized in the lab. Then it is implanted back in the woman’s uterus.
ART treatments often are effective, but are not a guarantee. If a man cannot produce sperm, a couple may look for a sperm donor. Some people consider adoption in place of ART or if ART is not successful.
Questions to ask your doctor
- If my partner or I are over the age of 35, do we have to wait until we haven’t been successful for a year before being tested for infertility?
- What is the recovery time for surgery to treat male infertility?
- Will treatment make it possible for us to have a baby?
- If treatment doesn’t work, what are our other options?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.