Having a child comes naturally for many couples, but it can be heartbreaking for the 15 percent who have trouble conceiving. In about half of these cases, male infertility plays a role.
“Infertility cases are increasing as many couples wait longer to start families,” says Zamip Patel, MD, an andrologist at Florida Hospital East Orlando. “It’s a common misconception that it’s simply a woman’s issue.”
Male infertility can result from a number of factors including low levels of testosterone reducing sperm counts, obstructions and abnormalities in the male reproductive system preventing sperm from exiting the testicles, unhealthy lifestyle habits, exposure to toxins, and genetic defects.
If you and your spouse have tried to conceive for a year without success, or if your spouse is older than 35 and you’ve tried for six months, you should consult a doctor who specializes in men’s reproductive health. This doctor, called an andrologist, will conduct basic blood tests, a physical exam and a semen analysis to determine the number and quality of sperm.
The good news, Dr. Patel says, is that many causes of male infertility can be treated effectively with medication, lifestyle changes or surgery. For instance, blockages in the male reproductive system can often be cleared with minor surgery, and procedures exist to correct varicoceles, a tangle of varicose veins in the scrotum that increase temperature and negatively impact sperm production.
“Men shouldn’t lose hope or be embarrassed,” Dr. Patel says. “There are many options, and in most cases, something can be done.”