Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
What is male factor infertility?
Male infertility indicates that a man is experiencing issues with his reproductive system and therefore, the inability to start a pregnancy with their female partner. The second most common cause of infertility is male factor — meaning that there is an issue with his swimmers that are making it harder to conceive. Semen volume, sperm concentration, and sperm quality are all critical factors on the male side.
Male factor infertility is the cause of 40-50% of all infertility cases. It can be caused by low sperm production, abnormal sperm function, or blockages preventing the delivery of sperm.
Luckily, many cases of male factor infertility are treatable, which is why it’s important to have your partner test his sperm early on in your trying to conceive journey.
Male factor infertility is the cause of 40-50% of all infertility cases.
What causes male factor infertility?
The causes of male infertility can be difficult to identify. Most often, the problems are associated with sperm production or delivery.
Genetic abnormalities can cause infertility by impacting spermatogenesis or sperm transport. There are specific genetic abnormalities that cause male infertility and can affect the health of offspring.
There are several factors impacting natural male reproduction. This includes being able to produce healthy sperm that can fertilize the egg and the ability to have an erection and ejaculate so the sperm reaches the egg after sex. Some of the primary causes of male infertility include sperm disorders, structural problems, and other factors such as erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, liver or kidney disease, or treatment for seizure disorders.
Issues with producing healthy sperm is the most common cause of male infertility. Also, with sperm disorders, there can be the problem of not being able to produce enough sperm. There are several conditions that can cause this problem, which include infections or inflammatory conditions, hormone or pituitary gland issues, immunity issues, and environmental and lifestyle elements.
There are several environmental factors that can cause male factor infertility. This includes the overexposure to pesticides and other chemicals, cigarette smoking, alcohol, marijuana, medications used to treat bacterial infections, high blood pressure, and depression. Regular exposure to heat including saunas or hot tubs can impact sperm production through the increase in body temperature.
With structural problems in male infertility, anything that blocks the genital tract can end the flow of semen. These issues can be genetic. Other structural related problems can involve infection or inflammation from sexually transmitted diseases as this can create another block for semen. Furthermore, scar tissue that is created from surgeries can create structural problems in male infertility.
How do I know if my partner has male factor infertility?
You can take a home sperm test to motile sperm concentration. This will provide you with the number of swimming sperm in semen. Fortunately, a home sperm test can offer results in just a few minutes. This type of sperm test works by identifying a protein that is only found in sperm.
When a home sperm test shows that your concentration is low or negative, you will want to consult your doctor for further evaluation. When the sperm test comes back positive, this means that your sperm concentration is considered normal.
It is important to keep in mind that a normal sperm count does not indicate whether or not you are fertile as sperm count is only one factor in assessing male fertility. This is why we recommend at home sperm tests that measure count and motility, meaning the sperm can get to where they need to go (the egg). The YO Sperm test is a great option for measuring both. (Use the code “MFB5” at checkout for $5 off!)
It is important to keep in mind that a normal sperm count does not indicate whether or not you are fertile as sperm count is only one factor in assessing male fertility.
There are several signs and symptoms to watch for if you may be experiencing male factor infertility, which include the following:
- Problems with function during sex. This can include difficulty with ejaculation, limited desire for sex, or trouble maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction).
- Pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Inability to smell
- Abnormal breast growth (gynecomastia)
- Decreased facial or body hair or other signs of a chromosomal or hormonal abnormality
- A lower than normal sperm count (fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen or a total sperm count of less than 39 million per ejaculate)
How is male factor infertility treated?
Once a diagnosis is determined, there are three methods used to treat male factor infertility. This includes the following:
- Medical therapy is an option to reverse or mend certain types of inflammation or hormone deficiency.
- Surgery may be suggested to treat problems with the male anatomy, including ductal obstruction (from vasectomy or EDO) or varicocele.
- If these options are not suitable, assisted reproductive technologies should be a consideration.
When sperm production is not high enough for pregnancy, medication can be an option to increase the number of sperm produced. With men who experience low hormone levels, hormone therapy may be necessary to adjust the balance.
Even in situations where no sperm are present in the ejaculate, sperm may be recovered from the testicle using minimally invasive techniques. Once sperm is retrieved, pregnancy then becomes possible through the use of intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This has dramatically changed the treatment available for even the most severe cases of those experiencing male factor infertility. Through this procedure, 90% of all infertile men have the probability of conceiving their own child.
Additional methods used for treating male infertility include artificial insemination and techniques like in vitro fertilization (IVF) or gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT). Medicine and surgery are also possibilities for treatment. You should check with your doctor on the treatment recommended for you and your infertility concerns.
Once a diagnosis is determined, there are three methods used to treat male factor infertility.
What can my partner do to prevent male factor infertility?
Even though most types of male factor infertility cannot be prevented, the good news is there are several approaches that can help when trying to conceive.
While most types of infertility cannot be prevented in men, there are several approaches to consider that can help:
- Avoid drug and tobacco use and limit use
- Avoid high temperatures found in hot tubs, hot baths, and saunas
- Avoid exposure to industrial or environmental toxins
- Limit medications that may impact fertility. Talk with your doctor about any medications including prescriptions and non-prescriptions you take regularly. Be sure to not stop taking prescription medications without medical advice.
- Exercise moderately and regularly to maintain sperm quality and increase the chances for achieving a pregnancy.