It takes two to tango – and two to make a baby. So when there are problems with getting pregnant, there are two people to consider when looking for possible causes. And even though infertility is often looked at as a “women’s issue,” every couple’s fertility assessment should include a review of the male partner.
Male infertility is more common than most people realize – approximately 15% to 25% of all infertility is due to solely to male factors. An additional 20-40% of infertility cases are related to male and female issues with sperm. Some of the reasons for male infertility are well documented and a variety of tests are available to assess potential problems. However, at least fifty percent of cases are due to unknown factors.
A low sperm count or low sperm quality is a major reason for infertility along with testicular damage. The former is easier to address and in general, the healthier the man, the healthier the sperm. Obesity, excessive use of alcohol, recreational drugs, and smoking may cause problems. So can taking certain prescription drugs such as antibiotics, and even certain sunscreens have been linked to sperm quality issues. Stress and excessive exercise – such as cycling – can also have negative effects, and even dietary deficiencies can make a difference.
Cancer, diabetes and other chronic illnesses or a hormonal imbalance may affect fertility, as can genital infection or trauma. Even surgical treatment for a hernia or undescended testicle may make a difference. Approximately 40% of infertile males have a physical problem known as variocoele, an enlargement of internal spermatic veins. And, there are genetic issues such as chromosome abnormalities or genetic mutations.
Finally, environmental factors influence fertility, including excessive heat exposure through work (welder, firefighter) or lifestyle (too much time in the hot tub or too tight clothing). High levels of pollution, including exposure to lead/heavy metals, paint, plus herbicides and pesticides are also associated with higher levels of male infertility.
Research continues to identify new factors that may affect male fertility such as using sunscreen. Although the list of potential negative influences may be long, help is available. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or male fertility drugs or IVF to best help the two of you to make it three or more.