Infertility can be caused by a real mixture of factors, so if you’re struggling to get pregnant it’s worth investigating whether you can make any changes and turn things around.
Here we bring you a list of the most common causes affecting men.
At a glance
- Male infertility and abnormal semen
- Medicines, drugs and how they may affect male fertility
- The effects of alcohol on sperm
Finding the cause
Infertility can be caused by many different things. And for 25% of couples – maddeningly - doctors are never able to pinpoint the cause. You may find making lifestyle changes as a couple will make all the difference. But if you want to dig deeper, here’s an overview of the most common causes of infertility affecting men:
Problems with semen
Male infertility is caused by abnormal semen - the fluid containing sperm that men ejaculate during sex. Here are some of the possible causes:
- A low number of sperm – you may have a very low sperm count, or no sperm at all
- Decreased sperm mobility – making it harder for sperm to swim to the egg
- Abnormal sperm – if sperm are an unusual shape it’s harder for them to move and fertilise an egg
Many cases of abnormal semen are unexplained, but there are several factors that can affect semen and sperm:
The testicles are responsible for producing and storing sperm, and several factors can affect the quality of semen:
- An infection of your testicles
- Testicular cancer
- Testicular surgery
- A congenital defect - a problem you were born with
- Undescended testicles - when one or both of your testicles has not descended into the scrotum
- Injury to your testicles
While your testicles may produce sperm, it doesn’t always reach your semen. This could be due to a blockage in one of the tiny tubes that make up your reproductive system, which may have been caused by an infection or surgery.
Some men experience problems ejaculating.
Hypogonadism is an abnormally low level of testosterone - the male sex hormone that is involved in making sperm. This could be due to a tumour, taking illegal drugs, or Klinefelter's syndrome (a rare genetic condition where a man is born with an extra female chromosome).
Medicines and drugs
Certain types of medicines can sometimes cause infertility problems in the short term, or long term:
- Sulfasalazine - an anti-inflammatory medicine used to treat conditions such as Crohn's disease (inflammation of the intestine) and rheumatoid arthritis (painful swelling of the joints)
- Anabolic steroids - often used illegally to build muscle and improve athletic performance
- Herbal remedies – some herbal remedies, like root extracts of Tripterygium wilfordii (a Chinese herb), can affect the production of sperm or reduce the size of your testicles
- Illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine
Drinking more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day can damage the quality of your sperm, so it’s worth cutting back if you want to boost your chances of conceiving.
Speak to your doctor
Identifying the cause can certainly bring you closer to finding a solution. Have a chat with your doctor, or fertility expert, about your history to see if you think any of these issues could be causing you problems.