When you’ve been trying to conceive for longer than you anticipated, you should turn to your doctor. While many pregnancies are achieved with little or no medical assistance, many couples do have difficulty. Checking in with your OB/GYN early in the game is your best bet for reassurance, or for the recommendation to see a fertility specialist sooner. If it continues to take months upon months of trying without success, you may consider an evaluation for male factor infertility.
Male factor infertility can be fairly easy to diagnose with a semen analysis. While it’s true that many people view infertility as a woman’s problem, it clearly is not. As a matter of fact, one third of all infertility cases are related to female problems, one third are comprised of male factor conditions, and the remaining third are due to a combination of both or unexplained (idiopathic) infertility. While women can track their menstrual cycles and try at-home ovulation predictor kits, it may be harder to ‘suspect’ male issues, but there may be subtle clues. Smoking, excessive alcohol use and obesity can negatively impact male fertility. In addition, some clues that may lead you to suspect a male factor are:
- Low libido or difficulty maintaining an erection. While both can be caused by stress if experienced only rarely, these problems could also indicate a hormonal or anatomical problem that could be causing infertility if they are experienced often.
- Sparse body hair, low muscle tone, breast growth (gynecomastia) or small testicles. While some men are naturally hairier or more muscular than others, being less so doesn’t mean infertility, but some genetic and hormone abnormalities can cause a lack of hair, muscle and smaller testicles. Think of testicles as ovaries- they need to contain the cells necessary for reproduction and they need to secrete hormones, if they seem abnormally small there could be a problem. Another clue is gynecomastia, or male breast growth that can indicate hormonal imbalances.
- Absence of ejaculate. While a normal ejaculate is only a 2 -3 milliliters it should contain millions of sperm. If your partner is able to orgasm without releasing seminal fluid, or only releases a super-small amount (a drop or two) it could be an anatomical factor.
- Unusual lumps, bumps, pain or swelling in the genital area. It is possible to have an infection or a varicocele (a varicose vein) in the genital area that will result in increased inflammation and/or heat and cause damage to the sperm being produced.
- A prior infection or surgery in the genital area. Surgery, such as correcting an undescended testicle(s) can leave behind scarring (which can prevent sperm from making its way from the testicles into the seminal fluid). Prior inflammations or infections can result in anti-sperm antibodies which can affect the sperms mobility and motility.
- Inability to conceive a child after a year of regular, unprotected intercourse. Especially if there is no known female factor.
You may or may not have ‘symptoms’ of male factor infertility, but if any of the above apply to you a referral to a specialist is warranted. Fertility Solutions physicians treat couples everyday with male factor and combination issues, and are able to offer fertility testing at their in-house state of the art laboratory. The first step is pin-pointing the problem, and then creating a plan to fix it.