Causes Of Male Infertility

Causes Of Male Infertility

Approximately 15 percent of couples experience difficulties with fertility. In most cases, the couple can be helped with assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

Around 30 percent of fertility problems in couples originate in the woman. Another 30 percent originate in the man and 30 percent is found in both partners. No cause is found in around one in 10 couples investigated for infertility. This is called ‘unexplained’ or ‘idiopathic’ infertility.

Problems with sperm causing infertility in men

Problems with sperm numbers or quality are thought to be caused by genetic factors. Tiny fragments of the male chromosome may be missing in some men with sperm problems. This may cause:

  • Absent sperm (azoospermia) – the semen doesn’t contain any sperm. This may be caused by a blockage of the tubes or testicular failure
  • Low sperm count (oligospermia) – the ejaculate has insufficient sperm to bring about conception
  • Abnormal shape – a healthy sperm is shaped like a streamlined tadpole. Abnormally shaped sperm may have problems penetrating the surface of the woman’s egg
  • Poor motility – a healthy sperm has a lashing tail which helps it to swim through the woman’s reproductive system. Sperm with poor motility may swim feebly or not at all.

The major causes of male infertility are:

  • Obstructions to the passage of sperm
  • Problems with sperm (such as low sperm count)
  • Functional problems (such as impotence)
  • Hormonal problems.

Functional problems causing infertility in men

Functional problems that can cause or contribute to male infertility include:

  • Impotence – the inability to get or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse
  • Ejaculation problems – retrograde (when semen enters the bladder instead of emerging through the penis) and premature ejaculation
  • Problems with the testicles – caused by injury, infection or chemotherapy
  • Prostatectomy – side effects of the surgical removal of the prostate gland, including infertility, impotence, and incontinence
  • Certain disorders –multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and other disorders can cause erection and ejaculation difficulties
  • Antibodies – the man’s immune system makes antibodies that hinder the activity of sperm, such as reducing the sperm’s ability to latch onto his partner’s egg.

Diagnosis of male infertility

Investigating suspected infertility requires tests for both the man and his partner. Diagnosing male infertility may involve:

  • Physical examination – including medical history
  • Semen analysis – a sample of the man’s semen is investigated in the laboratory and checked for abnormalities and the presence of antibodies
  • Blood tests – to assess hormone levels
  • Testicular biopsy – a fine needle and microscope are used to check the network of tubes within the testicles to see if they contain any sperm
  • Ultrasound scans – to take pictures of the reproductive organs, such as the prostate gland.

Obstructions causing infertility in men

Sperm are made in the testicles, then they spend two to ten days passing through a series of small tubes called the epididymis where they mature and exit into a larger tube called the vas deferens. The vas deferens empty the sperm into the ejaculatory duct, where they are mixed with seminal fluid from the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland.

During ejaculation, muscular contractions force the semen into the urethra and out of the penis. Blockages or absences of tubes (including the vas deferens) are the cause of around one in three cases of male infertility. Blockages or absences of tubes may be due to vasectomy or injury.

Hormonal problems causing infertility in men

The levels of male sex hormones are regulated by a series of glands and their hormones. The pituitary gland in the brain influences hormone production in the testicles under the guidance of the hypothalamus. A relatively uncommon cause of male infertility is the failure to make enough of the hormone gonadotropin.

Hormone therapy for male infertility

The pituitary gland in the brain releases hormones called gonadotropins, which stimulate the testicles to produce sperm. In a small number of cases, male infertility is caused by insufficient levels of these gonadotropins. Taking these hormones as medication may boost sperm production.