Approximately 15% of couples attempting their first pregnancy meet with failure. Most authorities define these patients as primarily infertile if they have been unable to achieve a pregnancy after one year of unprotected intercourse. Conception normally is achieved within twelve months in 80-85% of couples who use no contraceptive measures, and persons presenting after this time should therefore be regarded as possibly infertile and should be evaluated. Data available over the past twenty years reveal that in approximately 30% of cases pathology is found in the man alone, and in another 20% both the man and woman are abnormal. Therefore, the male factor is at least partly responsible in about 50% of infertile couples.
Important issues related to the evaluation of the male factor include the most appropriate time for the male evaluation, the most efficient format for a comprehensive male exam, and definition of rationale and effective medical and surgical regimens in the treatment of these disorders. It is extremely important in the evaluation of infertility to consider the couple as a unit in evaluation and treatment and to proceed in a parallel investigative manner until a problem is uncovered. It has been shown that the longer a couple remains subfertile, the worse their chance for an effective cure.
Many couples experience significant apprehension and anxiety after only a few months of failure to conceive. Unduly prolonged unprotected intercourse should not be advocated before a workup of the man is instituted. Initial screening of the man should be considered whenever the patient presents with the chief complaint of infertility. This initial evaluation should be rapid, non-invasive and cost effective. Of interest is the fact that pregnancy rates of up to 50% have been reported when only the woman has been investigated and treated even when the man was found to have moderately severe abnormalities of semen quality.
Low Sperm Count
Low sperm count is a major cause of male infertility. The normal range of sperm count is between 35 and 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. An infertile man may have none to lower than the average number. There are no visible symptoms for this problem and most affected men will not know about it until tests have been carried out.
Some men have sperm that are not properly formed. The abnormally shaped sperm causes difficulty to fertilize an egg. Another type of abnormal sperm are sperm with low mobility. That means the sperm cannot travel fast or agile enough to reach the egg.
Failure to Ejaculate
Some men are infertile because of failure to ejaculate. During intercourse, these men suffer from retrograde ejaculation, where the semen is ejaculated backwards into the bladder instead of the vagina. Without sperm, egg fertilization and implantation cannot take place.
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Exposing Testes to High Temperatures
Exposing the testes to high temperatures can affect the ability of the sperm to move and fertilize an egg. For instance, men with cryptorchism have testicles that do not descent into the scrotum. That means the testes are still inside the body cavity, which has a higher temperature than the external scrotum.
Men who wear tight underwear and pants also expose their testes to high temperatures. Another condition that raises the temperature in the testes is varicocele, or enlarged veins, in the scrotum.
Blocked Sperm Ducts
Blocked sperm ducts are also to blame for male infertility. A small number of men have vas deferens or sperm ducts that are blocked or damaged. This prevents the sperm from reaching the partner’s egg. Blocked sperm ducts can be a result of an infection such as mumps, injury to the testicles, congenital defects or a vasectomy.