Infertility is often believed to be a woman’s problem. However, studies indicate that 30 percent of infertility is related to male factor problems, such as structural abnormalities and sperm production disorders.
Evaluation of the male partner is essential for the diagnosis and timely treatment of specific causes of male factor infertility. Even men with proven fertility in the past may develop new problems. In many cases, treatment alone may result in a successful natural pregnancy.
Infertility in men is typically diagnosed by a semen analysis. A specialist will evaluate the number of sperm (concentration), motility (movement), and morphology (shape). A slightly abnormal semen analysis does not mean that a man is necessarily infertile. Instead, a semen analysis helps to determine if and how male factors are contributing to infertility.
Conditions that can contribute to abnormal semen analyses include:
- Varicoceles, a condition in which the veins on a man’s testicles are large and cause them to overheat. The heat may affect the number or shape of the sperm. (Approximately one third of infertile men who have never fathered a child have a varicocele; and as many as 80 percent of men who were once fertile, but are now infertile, also have a varicocele.)
- Medical conditions or exposures, such as cancer, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, trauma, infection, testosterone supplementation or hypogonadism (low testosterone), or treatment with chemotherapy or radiation.
- Unhealthy habits, such as heavy alcohol use, smoking, anabolic steroid use, and illicit drug use.
- Environmental toxins including exposure to pesticides and lead.