Approximately 15 percent of couples are infertile. This means they aren't able to conceive a child even though they've had frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for a year or longer — or for at least six months if the woman is age 35 or older. In about half of these cases, male infertility plays a role.
Male infertility is due to low sperm production, misshapen or immobile sperm, or blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm. Illnesses, injuries, chronic health problems, lifestyle choices and other factors can play a role in causing male infertility.
Not being able to conceive a child can be stressful and frustrating, but a number of male infertility treatments are available. Approaches can include treatment for the male partner, the female partner, or both.
The main sign of male infertility is the inability to conceive a child. Often, there are no other obvious signs or symptoms. In some cases, however, an underlying problem such as an inherited hormonal imbalance or a condition that blocks the passage of sperm may cause signs and symptoms. Male infertility symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
Male fertility is a complex process. To get your partner pregnant, you must be able to produce healthy sperm that can reach, penetrate and fertilize your partner's egg. For this to occur:
Health, lifestyle and other causes
A number of risk factors are linked to male infertility. They include:
Infertility can be stressful for both you and your partner. Complications can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a specialist.
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For male infertility, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Many infertile couples have more than one cause of infertility, so it's likely you will both need to see a doctor. It may take a number of tests to determine the cause of infertility. In some cases, a cause is never identified. Infertility tests can be expensive and may not be covered by insurance — find out what your medical plan covers ahead of time.
Diagnosing male infertility problems usually involves:
Depending on initial findings, your doctor may recommend additional, more specialized tests that can help identify the cause of your infertility. These can include:
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of male infertility depends on the cause, how long you've been infertile, your age and personal preferences. In all cases of infertility, the female partner also will need to be checked and may need treatment. In some cases, treatment of the female partner can compensate for male fertility problems. Your doctor may try to improve your fertility by either correcting an underlying problem (if one is found) or trying treatments that seem like they may be helpful. Often, an exact cause of infertility can't be identified. Even if an exact cause isn't clear, your doctor may be able to recommend treatments that work.
Treatments for male infertility include:
When treatment doesn't work
Lifestyle and home remedies
There are a few steps you can take at home to increase your chances of achieving pregnancy:
Evidence is still limited on whether — or how much — herbs or supplements might help increase male fertility. Some, such as zinc, may help only if you have a deficiency.
Supplements that show some promise for improving sperm count or sperm quality include:
Other supplements — including L-arginine and L-carnitine — may help improve sperm quality, but more research is needed.
Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal remedies or supplements, as some can cause harm when taken in high doses (megadoses) and some can cause problems when taken with certain medications.
Coping and support
Coping with infertility can be difficult. It's an issue of the unknown — you can't predict how long it will last or what the outcome will be. Infertility isn't necessarily solved with hard work. The emotional burden on a couple is considerable, and plans for coping can help.
Planning for emotional turmoil
Managing emotional stress during treatment
Many types of male infertility aren't preventable. However, you can avoid some known causes of male infertility:
Last Updated: 2011-09-09
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