Infertility has traditionally been considered a woman’s problem due to deep-rooted gender discrimination in society. For generations, women have been called names, ostracised for not being able to reproduce an heir for the family.
The stigma around infertility also stems from lack of awareness about this health issue in general. It is not just women, a man’s (in)fertility plays a crucial role too. Some studies suggest that about one out of every three cases of infertility is due to the male partner.
Causes of male infertility
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines infertility as “the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year.” One of the major causes of 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.
What couples can do
For a couple struggling to conceive even after several attempts, here is what you should you:
1. 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.
2. Educate yourself on the matter and read up about it. Understand your chances of contraception and the alternatives that you have.
3. Stay patient and plan your options in constant discussion with your partner and the doctor.
4. 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 fertilisation) or sperm donation.
5. 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.
How to improve sperm quality
Lifestyle habits and diet can have a great impact on your fertility. Adopting the following may help men improve their sperm quality as well:
1. 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.
2. Maintaining the right weight is also a significant factor that impacts male infertility.
3. Excess of stress has also been known to impact fertility. So you must work on minimizing your stress.
4. Stay physically active as that will help in controlling the stress as well as your weight and diet, in turn improving your sperm health.
5. Don’t buy into all the supplements advertised out there. Be wise about what you intake.
6. You must quit smoking as it not only reduces the sperm count but also enhances the risk of misshapen sperm.
7. 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.
8. Lubricants used during sex can also become a hindrance for sperm sometimes, so avoid them.
9. Certain medications also affect sperm production so talk to your doctor about the medications you take.
10. Hot tubs, tight innerwear, and saunas tend to heat the testicles which can also reduce the efficiency of producing sperm.
(With inputs from Dr Thejaswini J, consultant, obstetrics and gynecology, Columbia Asia Hospital Sarjapur Road)
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