As ‘Movember’ comes to a close, get educated about male infertility
Even though there’s only one day left in Movember – the month of men’s health and the mustache – it’s not too late to get the facts about male infertility.
Because male factor infertility contributes to over a third of all infertility cases, it’s important to get educated about what it is and what you can do about it.
Whether you’re a man looking for more information about male infertility or someone recently diagnosed with male factor infertility, there are several important things you should know.
Dr. Jonathan Kort at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Northern California (RMA of NorCal) in San Francisco explains the seven things men should know about male factor infertility.
Male factor infertility stems from issues with sperm.
Male infertility is defined as an abnormal sperm count and/or lack of pregnancy after one year of trying. Usually, that inability boils down to a problem with the sperm count, motility or morphology. In addition to the number of sperm a man has, the shape and movement of the sperm (or how well the sperm swims) is also important. A problem in one of these three areas can cause male infertility.
The more the merrier.
Sperm are tiny. In a healthy sperm sample, there are millions of sperm – at least 15 million sperm per milliliter is the magic number. If your sperm count is lower than that, you may need to seek fertility care.
While a high sperm count is good, a high ‘swimming’ sperm count (motility) is even more important. In general, about a third of the sperm in a healthy sperm sample will swim. It’s these swimming sperm that will compete with one another to find the egg and drive your chances of achieving a pregnancy. For patients that have extremely low swimming sperm count, fertility specialists can perform special procedures as part of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to help couples that would otherwise be unable to become pregnant.
Different studies have demonstrated that smoking decreases total sperm concentration and sperm motility. Research has shown that heavy male smokers were shown to have a 29 percent decrease in total sperm count and a 13 percent decrease in sperm motility compared to non-smoking males.
Watch what you eat (and beat the heat).
Although there are several causes of a low sperm count, one of the more common is obesity and poor overall health. Changing your diet and exercising more could make a difference for men struggling with male infertility. Another cause of low sperm count is being exposed to higher temperatures, like frequent exposure to hot tubs and saunas. Dilated blood vessels around the testicle (called a varicocele), abnormal testosterone levels (including taking testosterone injections), and environmental factors are other causes.
Your underwear, your choice.
Here’s one thing you don’t have to worry about: what underwear you put on. Men should feel free to choose whatever underwear fits best without having fertility concerns. While it was previously thought that briefs increased the temperature of the testicles and affected sperm production, this is nothing more than an old wives’ tale.
There are treatment options available.
The first step is always to have a semen analysis done. If the first count is abnormal, it is important to repeat the analysis, as sperm counts can vary considerably between samples. Next is a blood test to check for hormone levels like testosterone and a look into the patient’s history to determine if any environmental factors are the cause of infertility.
Next, we’ll check for varicocele. If this condition is present and is affecting the man’s sperm, a urologist who specializes in fertility can perform a simple outpatient surgical procedure to repair the dilated veins around the testicle using an operating microscope.
If a man has a good sperm count but low motility, doctors may suggest an intrauterine insemination (IUI) procedure that places his sperm inside the woman’s uterus, bypassing the distance needed for the sperm to travel before meeting the egg.
If the sperm analysis determines the man has no sperm in his ejaculate, there is a surgical procedure available that can help extract sperm from the man’s reproductive system. During this procedure, the man would undergo general anesthesia while doctors look for and extract sperm from inside their testicles with an operating microscope. In this case, once the sperm is extracted, it is joined with the egg through IVF.
Based in downtown San Francisco, and with an office in Palo Alto, Reproductive Medicine Associates of Northern California is a leading infertility center focused on science, success and support. If you or your partner are struggling with male infertility, book a consultation to meet with Dr. Kort today.