I still remember my first love. The smell of her hair. The softness of her touch. My desire to share every intimate thought and experience with her. It permeated every last fiber of my being.
Part of that was to eventually marry and have children. In fact, it’s not just me. It’s genetically coded into our DNA. We have an internal drive to procreate, amongst other things.
But what happens when you can’t? When infertility strikes, what do you do? The truth is that couples are willing to jump through serious hoops to have children. Yet, overcoming infertility often poses a serious challenge.
If you’ve tried and tried and pregnancy just won’t happen, where do you turn? How do you approach the situation? Who do you speak to? While most people think that infertility is a woman’s problem, that’s not the whole truth.
Infertility in men is a real issue. One that needs to be addressed. So what causes it? While there are many root causes, there are 7 primary culprits for infertility in men.
1. Low Quantity of Sperm
If you’re a man experiencing infertility, one of the first places your doctor will look is your sperm.
In fact, one of the most common causes of infertility in men is poor-quality semen (the fluid containing sperm, which is ejaculated during sex).
This can take the form of oligospermia (low sperm count) or azoospermia (complete absence of sperm). Your sperm count is considered low if you have fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
Symptoms of low sperm count include:
- Low sex drive
- Problems maintaining an erection
- Pain, swelling, or a lump in the testicle area
The main sign, of course, is the inability to conceive a child–in fact, some men may not have any other obvious symptoms of low sperm count.
2. Poor Quality of Sperm
However, a low sperm count isn’t the only problem you need to worry about where your sperm is concerned. You could have a normal sperm count and still have sperm problems resulting in infertility.
Sometimes, it’s not the quantity of sperm, but rather the quality of sperm. For example, your sperm may not have sufficient mobility, which makes it difficult (if not impossible) for the sperm to reach the woman’s egg.
This can be the result of any number of factors, such as an abnormal shape that makes it difficult for your sperm to move properly.
Whether you have problems with low sperm count or abnormal sperm, a doctor can tell you with sperm analysis.
3. Hormonal Problems
Sometimes, though, your infertility doesn’t have anything to do with your sperm, but rather an underlying hormonal problem.
For example, you may be dealing with hypogonadism, which is when your sex glands (the testes, in men) produce few or no sex hormones. These glands are responsible for various secondary sex characteristics, including testicular development.
There are two main types of hypogonadism:
- Primary (lack of sufficient sex hormones due to a problem in the testes)
- Central (lack of sufficient sex hormones due to a malfunction of the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain)
However, hypogonadism isn’t the only hormone disorder that may affect male fertility. Common hormonal problems include:
- Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels)
- Hyperprolactinemia (elevated prolactin, a hormone associated with nursing mothers)
- Hypogonadotropic Hypopituitarism (low pituitary gland output of LH and FSH, which halts sperm development)
Fortunately (or unfortunately), these conditions often come with their own host of problems in addition to infertility, which can make it easier for your doctor to diagnose them.
4. Autoimmune Disorders
Sometimes, the body turns against itself, and that can result in all sorts of health issues–including infertility.
In autoimmune disorders, one of two things happens:
- The immune system begins attacking the body’s own cells
- The immune system is too weak to fight invaders in the body, which would put a person at serious health risk from otherwise minor infections
There are cases in which your body can develop antibodies against your own sperm, which can be the result of a naturally-occurring autoimmune disorder or the result of other illnesses and treatments, such as chemotherapy.
5. Genetic Disorders
Less common (but still cause for concern) are genetic disorders that can, among other things, result in infertility.
One example of this is Klinefelter syndrome, which occurs when men are born with an extra X chromosome. Humans have 46 chromosomes, but two of them are responsible for determining our sex: the X and Y.
Normally, men have an X and a Y chromosome, while women have two X chromosomes (basically, the Y chromosome is the chromosome containing all the genetic instructions to make a boy instead of a girl).
When men have an extra X chromosome, the genetic information is muddled. The body doesn’t know what genetic information it’s supposed to use, so it has to figure it out as best it can. This can show up in a variety of ways, but the most common is infertility.
6. Testicular Damage
In some cases, your sperm, your hormones, and your genes are all in good order, but you’re still infertile. One possible culprit is testicular damage.
The testicles are responsible for producing and storing sperm, and if they’re damaged, this can have a major impact on the quality of the sperm and semen you produce. Common causes of testicular damage include:
- Testicular cancer
- An infection of the testicles, like genital herpes
- A congenital defect
- Undescended testicles
- Injury to the testicles
A doctor can typically diagnose these problems for you.
7. Erectile Dysfunction
Finally, if none of the other potential culprits apply to you, you may be suffering from a more common ailment: erectile dysfunction.
It really depends on the man in question, but the end result is the same: difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.
Treating Infertility in Men
Infertility in men is a complex thing, much like sexual arousal. But if erectile dysfunction is your problem, we can help you overcome it.
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