Starting a family doesn’t always go as planned. One day you’re dating around, the next you’re married and looking into expanding your household. Sometimes hiccups happen and you aren’t sure of what to do next.
Let’s look into male infertility and your options. Maybe it’s affected you or your family and you need some information.
What causes male infertility?
It takes a whole bunch of scenarios to work together to achieve pregnancy. As a male, a few of these falls into your lap.
You must produce healthy sperm. This involves the growth and formation of the male reproductive organs during puberty. At least one of your testicles has to be functioning correctly, and your body must produce testosterone and other hormones to trigger and maintain sperm production.
You also must have a decent sperm count. Without enough sperm in your semen, your chances of your partner becoming pregnant decrease. A low sperm count means fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. So what can cause a man to be infertile?
There are more than ten different causes for infertility, let’s review a few.
- A varicocele is a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle. It's the most common reversible cause of male infertility. Although the exact reason that varicoceles cause infertility is unknown, it may be related to abnormal testicular temperature regulation. It often results in reduced quality of the sperm. Treating the varicocele can improve sperm numbers and function, and may improve outcomes when using assisted reproductive techniques such as in vitro fertilization.
- Some infections can interfere with sperm production or sperm health or can cause scarring that blocks the passage of sperm. These include inflammation of the epididymis (epididymis) or testicles (orchitis) and some sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea or HIV. Although some infections can result in permanent testicular damage, most often sperm can still be retrieved.
- Cancers and nonmalignant tumors can affect the male reproductive organs directly through the glands that release hormones related to reproduction. In some cases, surgery, radiation or chemotherapy to treat tumors can affect male fertility.
- Prior surgeries. Certain surgeries may prevent you from having adequate sperm, including vasectomy, inguinal hernia repairs, prostate surgeries, and large abdominal surgeries performed for testicular and rectal cancers, among others. In most cases, surgery can be performed to either reverse any blockage or to retrieve sperm directly from the epididymis and testicles.
When it comes to what you can do to prevent infertility, pay attention to your environment and chemical exposure. Too much heat or prolonged exposure to toxins might affect sperm count. This includes certain occupations like welding or those involving prolonged sitting, such as truck driving. Smoking causes a lower sperm count as does drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Drinking can also lower testosterone levels, which causes erectile dysfunction. Severe stress and obesity are also on the list of things to avoid when trying to have a baby.
What is ICSI?
Thanks to science, doctors are now able to inject a single sperm directly into an egg during a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This procedure may increase your chances of success with IVF (in vitro fertilization). An ICSI procedure can help you and your partner achieve IVF pregnancy even when male infertility problems are an issue.
The procedure has five main steps:
- A sperm sample will be taken from your semen or it can be surgically extracted from your testes or epididymis.
- Your partner’s eggs are surgically extracted from their ovaries.
- One sperm is carefully injected into an egg by using one small hollow needle.
- After injection, the fertilized egg will be observed for growth and development.
- Once normal growth is observed, the embryo will be implanted into your partner’s uterus where it has a chance to implant and grow into a baby.
Although some clinics use frozen sperm, rather than fresh, there is no proven difference between the two techniques.
With a high success rate, meaning about eight out of every 10 eggs will fertilize normally, your family could grow and flourish with ICSI. Before taking the plunge, however, note that .8 percent of babies have been found to have chromosomal issues. The cause is currently unknown.
But with every procedure, there is a risk. Sometimes that risk is low enough and the benefits are high enough that creating a new life is worth it.