What is male infertility?

Male Infertility
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What happens when you have infertility?

If you aren't able to get pregnant after a year of trying (or 6 months, if you're over 35), your doctor may suggest testing and treatment. But some people who have tried treatment without success become pregnant later without more treatment.

How can you help prevent infertility?

Sometimes infertility is related to lifestyle or other health conditions. To help protect your fertility:

  • Avoid using tobacco (cigarettes) and marijuana.
  • Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol use.
  • Limit sex partners and use condoms to reduce the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Untreated STIs can damage the reproductive system and cause infertility. If you think you may have an STI, get treatment right away to reduce the risk of damage.
  • Stay at a body weight that's close to the ideal for your height. It will reduce the chance of hormone imbalances.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer and hope to have children in the future, talk to your doctor about your options to help preserve fertility.

How is infertility diagnosed?

To check for infertility, a doctor can:

  • Do a physical exam.
  • Ask questions about your past health. This may help your doctor find clues, such as a history of miscarriages or pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Ask about your lifestyle habits. This includes how often you exercise and whether you drink alcohol or use drugs.
  • Do tests that check semen quality. Other tests can measure hormone levels. Hormone imbalances can be a sign of ovulation problems or sperm problems that can be treated.
  • Check the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

Before you have fertility tests, it may help to try fertility awareness. Chart basal body temperature and use home tests to learn when you are likely to ovulate and be fertile. Some people find that they have been missing the most fertile days when trying to conceive.

How are medicines used to treat infertility?

Medicine or hormone treatments are often the first steps in fertility treatment. They're also used for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other assisted reproductive technologies. Medicines include:

  • Clomiphene and letrozole. These stimulate the release of hormones that help with ovulation.
  • Gonadotropins. These hormone shots stimulate the ovaries to produce mature eggs.
  • Treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). If you're not ovulating because of PCOS, your doctor might recommend a drug such as metformin along with clomiphene.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). It increases production of hormones needed to produce eggs and sperm.
  • Bromocriptine and cabergoline. These lower prolactin levels. High prolactin levels can prevent ovulation and sperm production.
  • GnRH analogue. This is used for IVF.

How can you care for yourself when you have infertility?

It's important to take care of your body when you're trying to get pregnant. Here are some things you can do.

  • Exercise regularly, but don't overdo it. Hard, long exercise may lower sperm count or cause an egg to be released less often.
  • Eat healthy foods, drink lots of water, and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Avoid smoking, marijuana, and illegal drugs.

Track your period by writing down when it starts and stops for a few months. This information can help you figure out when you ovulate. That way, you will know when you are most likely to get pregnant.

How is surgery used to treat infertility?

For some people with fertility problems, a structural problem can be treated with surgery. Treatment can increase the chances of natural conception.

When thinking about surgery, ask your doctor questions about the procedure. For example, how many times has the surgeon done the procedure? What are the chances of treatment success? How long will it take to recover?

Surgery may include:

  • Fallopian tube procedures. This includes sterilization reversal.
  • Laparoscopic surgery. This may help treat endometriosis.
  • Myomectomy. This may help treat uterine fibroids.
  • Laparoscopic ovarian drilling. This may be used when weight loss and medicine haven't stimulated ovulation in people who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
  • Varicocele repair. This is used to cut or bypass an enlarged vein in the scrotum.
  • Vasectomy reversal. This reconnects the tubes (vas deferens) that were cut during a vasectomy.

If you have severely blocked fallopian tubes, your doctor may recommend that you skip surgery and have in vitro fertilization (IVF). You might also choose IVF first if you are older than 34 (for any type of blockage) or if you want to get pregnant as soon as possible, at any age. You may be able to get pregnant sooner if you choose IVF than if you have surgery.

What increases your risk for infertility?

Things that increase your risk for infertility include:

  • Age. Eggs and sperm can decrease in number or quality with age.
  • Birth defects. Some people were born with problems in their reproductive systems.
  • Moderate or severe endometriosis.
  • Past exposure to very high levels of environmental toxins, certain drugs, or high doses of radiation. This includes cancer chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Past infection with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that has since damaged the reproductive system. This includes gonorrhea or chlamydia.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome. This is a hormone imbalance that can affect ovulation. This can make it harder to get pregnant.

How can support help you cope with infertility?

When you have infertility, you may feel alone, confused, or scared. Talking with others about your feelings can help. Here are some places you may find support.

  • Family and friends. They can help you cope by giving you comfort and encouragement.
  • Counseling. Professional counseling can help you understand and deal with your infertility, and the emotions that may come with it.
  • Your doctor. Find a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with. Be open and honest about your fears and concerns.
  • Spiritual or religious groups. These groups can provide comfort. And they may be able to help you find counseling or other social support services.
  • Support groups. In a support group, you can talk to others who have had similar experiences. Your doctor may be able to tell you about groups in your community. You may also be able to find support in online groups, forums, or discussion boards.

Protecting sperm count and quality

Here are some steps you can take to help lower the risk of fertility problems and increase the chances of pregnancy.

  • If you use a vaginal lubricant during sex, select one that doesn't kill or damage sperm.
  • Reduce your level of activity, if you exercise strenuously most days of the week.

    Very strenuous exercise may be a cause of lower sperm counts.

  • Try to reduce your risk from lifestyle factors that affect fertility.

    Smoking, drinking alcohol, using marijuana or other drugs, being very overweight, and psychological stress are some of the lifestyle factors that can affect sperm and sperm production.

  • Avoid having increased heat to the scrotum for long periods of time.

    Many things may increase scrotal temperatures, including regular use of hot tubs and saunas. High scrotal temperatures may decrease sperm count and quality.

  • Try to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins at work or home.

    These include substances such as pesticides and heavy metals, including lead, cadmium, and mercury.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.