What is Male Infertility?
Male infertility is a term used to describe the inability of a male to fertilize his female partner after more than a year of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
What causes Male Infertility?
To fertilize the female egg (ovum), healthy sperm have to be produced by the testicles, and travel along the tubes (vas deferens and urethra) connecting the testes to the opening at the tip of the penis. Then they must be propelled into the female vagina by ejaculation, and be sufficiently mobile to continue to travel up the female reproductive tract until the ovum is reached. Male infertility can be the result of a problem at any point along its route. The testicles may not produce sperm. This may be due to a congenital problem, a previous infection like the mumps, exposure to radiation, a hormone deficiency or trauma. The sperm may be insufficient or of poor quality and so not survive the journey. The route may be interrupted by vasectomy, or by an anatomical abnormality, or infections such as gonorrhea may block the vas deferens. In other cases impotence may prevent successful intercourse or there may be a problem with ejaculation. The female may also be providing antibodies to the sperm.
How is Male Infertility diagnosed?
One of the first investigations undertaken for a couple complaining of infertility is semen analysis. Fresh semen is examined under the microscope, and the presence and quality of sperm are assessed. The complete absence of sperm (zoosperm) confirms male infertility. A vasectomy may be reversed by an operation, although success is not guaranteed. Also, tubes blocked by infection may occasionally be reopened. Oligospermia means there are sperm present in the ejaculate, but have reduced numbers and quality. Intercourse at regular three to four time intervals can also improve sperm production. Sperm prefer a lower temperature to the rest of the body – hence the sitting of the testicles outside the abdomen. Avoidance of hot baths, and the wearing of loose trousers and boxer shorts can improve the sperm count; so too can stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol.
What are the chances of achieving pregnancy?
One in 10 couples is infer tile. Of these the cause lies with the female in 30% of cases, the male in another 30% and, in the remaining 40%, there is either a combination of factors or no cause is ever found. In male infertility, correction of a specific problem is successful in around 50% of cases. However, in many instances of male infertility, no specific problem can be identified other than poor sperm quality.