From ages, due to gender discrimination and lack of awareness, women have traditionally been held responsible for infertility. The onus of a couple’s inability to have a child often hangs on the woman, however with time and improved awareness, it is now known that men could be the reason too. Some studies suggest that about one out of every three cases of infertility is due to male. But irrespective of whether is a man or a woman, infertility deeply affects a person as well the relationship of the couple, and hence it is crucial to handle it appropriately. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines infertility as “the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year.” Male infertility has also been identified among the main reason for infertility, contributing to about half the infertility cases.
Since there has been less information about male infertility earlier, it is now important for the men to be aware of this possibility as well as take steps to prevent it. A major reason for male infertility is the abnormality of sperms. The sperms could either be in low numbers, or none at all, or they could be deformed in some manner, or not be great swimmers.
Even though there is not a definitive reason for the sperm to be defective. Some of the many possible causes of an issue in the sperm can be:
- Testicular infection or testicular surgery
- Varicocele (an abnormal collection of bulging veins above the testicle), or varicose veins in the scrotum
- Undescended testicle
- Infections in the testicle (orchitis), the prostate (prostatitis), or elsewhere in the body that can cause a fever
- Hypogonadism, or testosterone deficiency
- Radiotherapy or chemotherapy for cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- Genetic abnormalities
- Hormone problems
- Some medications, including anabolic steroids or anti-seizure medicines
There are times when the issue is in the making of the sperm, while there are cases where the problem is in helping the sperm reach where they need to go. In men who have this problem, the sperm count is generally observed normally in the testicles but the sperm which is in the semen is either very less or abnormal or completely not there. Such infertility is observed as a result of:
- Retrograde ejaculation, when the semen ejaculates backward into the bladder instead of out the penis.
- Absence of the vas deferens, the main sperm pipeline. This condition is a genetic problem.
- An obstruction can occur anywhere in the plumbing between the testicles and the penis.
- Antibodies can abnormally attack a man's own sperm on their way to the egg.
Any couple or person struggling to have a baby must consider to stay aware and be informed though one’s doctor. Some of the things to be kept in mind:
- If you think you are not able to conceive despite continuous attempts, reach out for an expert opinion. Do not hesitate.
- Get yourself and your sperms tested.
- Educate yourself on the matter and read up about it. Understand your chances of contraception and the alternatives that you have.
- Stay patient and plan your options in constant discussion with your partner and the doctor.
- The couple must be well researched and well informed about all the possible options that they have to be able to conceive, be it adoption, IVF (in-vitro fertilization) or sperm donation.
- Before stepping into the available alternatives, the couple should discuss the procedures, what suits them the best, what are they prepared for and also consider the financial as well as the emotional levels.
Experts also tell that in some cases, there is not even a need to jump into alternatives straight away. There are options available to improve sperm quality as well. Make yourself known to those control options and take the necessary action. Most of these steps are about taking control of your diet, and your lifestyle habits. Some tips include:
- Eating right to improve your overall health as well as the quality of your sperm. You must take note of what food has what impact on your body, especially your sperm health and accordingly change your diet.
- Maintaining the right weight is also a significant factor that impacts male infertility.
- Excess of stress has also been known to impact fertility. So you must work on minimizing your stress.
- Stay physically active as that will help in controlling the stress as well as your weight and diet, in turn improving your sperm health.
- Don’t buy into all the supplements advertised out there. Be wise about what you intake.
- You must quit smoking as it not only reduces the sperm count but also enhances the risk of misshapen sperm.
- Alcohol has also been understood to reduce testosterone production and hence you must be moderate about your drinking habits too.
- Consumption of other addictive drug substances like cocaine, marijuana or tobacco, etc. should also be avoided.
- Lubricants used during sex can also become a hindrance for sperm sometimes, so avoid them.
- Certain medications also affect sperm production so talk to your doctor about the medications you take.
- Hot tubs, tight innerwear, and saunas tend to heat the testicles which can also reduce the efficiency of producing sperm.
A piece of good news in the present-day scenario is that enough information, treatment, and alternatives are available for anyone to enhance their chances of having a child if they are observant and ready.
Contributed by Dr. Thejaswini J, Consultant - Obstetrics and Gynecology, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road