Men are a significant cause of infertility in nearly half of all cases. In 15 per cent of couples it will be solely a male fertility problem and in around 25 per cent, there will be a problem in both partners. However, fertility experts are concerned that there is still a reluctance among men to address their own fertility issues which is causing many men to delay seeking advice and undergoing preliminary tests.
While infertility symptoms can be easier to recognise in women, such as abnormal or irregular periods, in most cases of male infertility there are no obvious signs. As a result, the need for medical testing for male partners is crucial to identify any potential problems as early as possible.
Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, is speaking at this year’s The Fertility Show in London, Olympia (4-5th November 2017) on the topic of male fertility.
Here, for Fertility Road readers, we outline the potential problems for men, how to test them & how male fertility can be boosted or treated.
What are the problems?
There are a number of possible reasons for lower sperm quality; – one of the most common causes of infertility is a very low sperm count or no sperm at all which affects one in three couples who are struggling to get pregnant. Other problems include sperm motility problems, making it harder for sperm to swim to the egg and abnormally shaped sperm, making it harder for them to move and fertilise an egg.
Other reasons for male infertility include:
- Obstructive problems (blockages in sperm carrying tubes as a result of groin surgery, trauma, infection such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and TB or a previous vasectomy)
- Testicular injury and disease
- Varicocele – a dilation of the testicular veins in the spermatic cord that leads from the testicles to the abdomen. Varicoceles occur in 15 to 20 per cent of fertile men and 30 to 40 per cent of men with fertility problems
- Inflamed testes (orchitis)
- Sperm disorders
- Genetic disorders – problems with chromosomes occur in about 2 to 20 per cent of infertile men
- Problems with erection and ejaculation
- Hormonal problems
- General medical disorders that reduce fertility
- Environmental toxins and radiation
- Medical treatment, such as some medication, radiotherapy or surgery for a hernia, undescended testes or twisted testicles
It is estimated that around 2.3 million men in the UK suffer from erectile dysfunction. The most common treatment options to date have included, viagra, vacuum pumps, injections and implants. However, until now, there has been no conclusive method. Now an innovative and curative technique, treating the root cause of the problem through the creation of new blood vessels, has been introduced: Erectile Dysfunction Shockwave Therapy (EDSWT).
Several health and lifestyle related factors can also have an effect on a man’s fertility including age (male fertility is thought to decline with age, although it is not known to what extent), living with diabetes, being overweight, working with chemicals or radiation, smoking and stress.
Whatever the cause, the most important piece of advice for men is to get tested and seek advice from a health professional about what the best options are.
Professor Allan Pacey comments. “Fertility treatments are advancing all the time and male infertility is not something to be ashamed of or ignored. There are many options open to both men and women who are experiencing fertility issues – but timing and early diagnosis are important. The sooner someone is diagnosed, the more chance they have of exploring a number of options to fulfill their hopes of starting a family.”
Boosting male fertility
While some male fertility problems will need to be treated medically, there are number of steps that men can take to improve their health overall and increase their chances of conceiving naturally:
- Stop smoking. Smoking has been linked to low sperm counts and sluggish motility. Longterm use of cannabis (marijuana) can result in abnormally shaped sperm.
- Cut back on alcohol. Alcohol can lead to impotence and affect reproductive hormones. Men should aim to keep within the Department of Health guidelines of 14 units per week.
- A weighty issue. Overweight men can have fertility problems. With too much weight, there can be hormonal disturbances, and when a man’s too lean, he can have decreased sperm count and functionality.
- Keep fit, but don’t overdo it! Excessive exercise lowers your sperm count indirectly by lowering the amount of testosterone in your body. Use of anabolic steroids can cause testicular shrinkage, resulting in infertility. Long term use can reduce sperm count and sperm mobility.
- Vitamin boost. Low levels of antioxidants can make sperm vulnerable to damage from free radicals.
- Beware of toxins. Manual workers such as landscapers, builders, manufacturing workers and men who have regular contact with environmental toxins or poisons (pesticides, insecticides, lead, radiation or heavy metals) are all at risk of infertility.
Did you know that men have a biological clock? Although male fertility is less affected by age than female fertility, it shows significant decline by the late 30s. Research shows men aged 40 and older were half as likely to get their partners pregnant as men under 25. Miscarriage rates increase when men are over 40. As part of National Fertility Awareness Week (30 October – 5 November 2017), the charity Fertility Network UK will be launching a new information leaflet for men and by men.
The leaflet, Fertility Fellas, will be available to download for free.
A problem shared
Men are often reluctant to speak up about fertility problems and can feel emasculated if they are diagnosed with a medical condition that is at the root of the problem. Counselling and support is widely available in the UK, but men need to be encouraged to open up and talk honestly about the emotions they experience at diagnosis and going through treatment.
To ensure that men are well informed and feel comfortable talking about the issues that matter to them, this year’s Show will feature specific talks as well as a unique Q&A session on male infertility. Professor Allan Pacey will be joined on an exclusive male infertility panel with guests, Mr Jonathan Ramsay, Consultant Urologist and Andrologist from Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Mr Kevin McEleny, Consultant Urologist and Andrologist, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NHS Foundation Trust. The Q&A stage, in association with Fertility Network UK, will give visitors an opportunity to put forward their questions either openly or anonymously as part of a panel of fertility experts.
For more information and to book tickets in advance, visit thefertilityshow.co.uk.