Like female infertility, male fertility problems can be caused by a number of factors. Also like females, who may have troubles conceiving due to a variety of problems (poor egg quality, polyps in their fallopian tubes or uterus, closed fallopian tubes, scarring in their uterus), men can have a variety of problems that interfere with their ability to produce sperm or for the sperm to get where it needs to be. Take a look at the different things that cold be affecting the quality of your partner’s sperm.
Check Your Family History
If there have been other men in his family that have had fertility problems, then it may not be unusual for your partner to also be having troubles. Has he fathered children before? This determines whether or not you are experiencing primary or secondary infertility. Another relevant moment in his past is whether or not he has had surgery on his groin (or in that area) or on his abdomen. Surgery can produce scar tissue or even possibly damage parts of his reproductive organs.
Beware of Toxins
If his family history is full of easily-conceived children and he’s never visited a hospital since he was born, then there are other things that could be affecting his sperm. Toxins that may kill his sperm are obviously an important factor to consider. These kinds of toxins are called gonadotoxins and include pesticides, chemotherapy drugs, alcohol, and marijuana.
Male Fertility and Health
Health issues can also affect the production of sperm. Ulcer and high blood pressure medication can hinder the production of sperm or the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg. Past illnesses, like mumps, can actually shrink your partner’s testicles and slow down the production of sperm. Even prolonged exposure to heat (for instance in a sauna) can interfere with your partner’s ability to produce sperm.
Male Fertility and Lifestyle
Does your partner smoke? If so, he could have a significantly lower sperm count and a greater number of misshapen sperm compared to a non-smoker. Alcohol can also cause problems with a man’s ability to produce sperm.
And if your partner likes to take steroids to help bulk him up, you may want to let him know that it will seriously put a damper on your hopes of getting pregnant - prolonged use of these drugs will make him impotent. If he’s using products like Rogaine to help his thinning hair, tell him to lay off for a few months as it can interfere with the quality of his sperm.
Even if your partner seems to pass all these categories with flying colors, it is important to take him with you if you decide to go for infertility testing. If you are both tested, then you can both know for sure what is causing your problem. Fertility tests for men basically consist of analyzing his sperm. What will specifically be analyzed is the volume of ejaculation, the density of the sperm, the sperm’s ability to swim or move and its shape.
What to Expect From the Urologist
If your partner’s sperm is found to be lacking in one of the above categories, then you may need to book an appointment with a urologist for further testing. The results of these tests can provide you with more specific answers. However, this initial assessment may be able to determine the problem and suggest whether you should continue to try a natural conception or start to think about artificial insemination.
At the urologist, your partner will have a series of tests performed to determine how healthy his prostate gland is; the contents of his penis and scrotum; the condition of his vas deferens; any tenderness and swelling of his epididymis (the duct that the sperm mature in); and anything that may be causing a blockage of the sperm flow.
The urologist will also check for varicocele. This is a condition that affects almost half of all infertile men and can be easily corrected with surgery. Varicocele is the presence of enlarged veins around the testicles.
In addition to these tests, there will also be blood test done. The blood tests will examine your partner’s FSH levels (follicle stimulating hormone, the same hormone that affects your ability to produce eggs; in men it is responsible for producing sperm) and luteinizing hormone (LH). This is the hormone that gets the testicles to produce testosterone. A low LH level doesn’t only affect your partner’s sperm. It can also cause depression, fatigue, affect his bone density and his ability to perform sexually.
The urologist will also assess your partner’s genes. The reason for his infertility could be genetic and, if not assessed properly, could cause genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis being passed on to your children.
Once all the tests have been performed, you will need to wait for the results before deciding on your next course of action.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD