Infertility can affect as many as one in eight couples trying to conceive. While many people tend to believe infertility is “a woman’s problem,” male infertility is a factor in roughly one-third of all infertility cases (25% in combination with female infertility factors and 8% as a singular factor). [R] Male infertility can be categorized as endocrine or systemic causes, testicular defects in spermatogenesis, sperm transport disorders, and idiopathic male infertility. [R]. Treatment is often available, and many couples are able to conceive after receiving a medical intervention.
Types of Male Infertility
Endocrine or Systemic Causes
Endocrine or systemic causes make up about 2 – 5% of male infertility cases. They refer to dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and like most hormonal pathways within the body, are sensitive to disruption and can be indicative of other disorders. [R] Excess estrogen appears to have an adverse effect on the balance of the HPG axis.
While some estrogen and estradiol are necessary for male biological function and reproduction, excess estrogen appears to be damaging to the balance of the HPG axis and could be a contributing factor to male infertility. As in women, excess estrogen in the body can be produced as a result of obesity, stress, or environmental factors [R, R, R].
Testicular Defects in Spermatogenesis
Some more common disorders that affect the testicles include trauma, torsion, cancer, epididymitis, and hypogonadism. Infection and inflammation of the reproductive tract are significant causes of male factor infertility.
Depending on the nature of the trauma, it is possible scar tissue may result within the testicular tissue leading to reduced to halted sperm production. Trauma did not appear to be a major cause affecting spermatogenesis, as early repair of any trauma seemed to preserve normal functionality. [R] Testicular torsion occurs when a testicle rotates, twisting the spermatic cord that brings blood to the scrotum. Adequate sperm needed for fertilization can be produced from one testicle, While medical intervention may be possible to repair and preserve the damaged testicle, the effects of testicular torsion on fertility remain unclear. [R]
If the testicular defect is a result of cancer, chemotherapy treatment could have an adverse effect on sperm production and fertility, so patients may wish to speak to their treatment provider about sperm banking before treatment begins. [R]. The epididymis is part of the male reproductive tract where spermatozoa acquire motility and the ability to fertilize the egg. When this area becomes damaged, usually through inflammation or infection such as a urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease, it can cause harm to the maturing sperm.
Male hypogonadism is a condition where the body does not produce enough testosterone and other hormones needed for masculine growth and development during puberty or enough sperm or both. The condition may be acquired or congenital.
Sperm Transport Disorders
In order for fertilization to occur, sperm must successfully reach the female egg. If there are difficulties in the sperm reaching the egg, it could be a potential cause of infertility. Sperm transport disorders account for 5% of male infertility cases. [R]
Causes of sperm transport issues may be congenital, surgical, or acquired through infection or disease. Congenital causes may include the absence of the vas deferens, incomplete development of the sperm ducts, or lack of the seminal vesicles which store sperm. Surgical intervention might be a vasectomy. Infection or disease-related causes of sperm transport disorders could be a result of a sexually transmitted disease which has led to scarring.
Idiopathic Male Infertility
Idiopathic male infertility, or IMI, affects approximately 10 – 15% of males in their prime reproductive age. [R] Men presenting with idiopathic infertility have no obvious history of fertility problems and both physical examination and endocrine laboratory testing are normal. However, semen analysis as routinely performed reveals sperm abnormalities that come alone or in combination.
Testing for Male Infertility
When seeking support for male infertility, the initial evaluation typically focuses on detecting the small percentage of causes that can be treated to restore normal fertility. The remainder of the evaluation of male infertility is focused on determining which couples with male factor infertility might benefit from assisted reproductive technologies (ART). [R] A medical history, physical examination, and semen analysis are usually common. While additional components of the exam may go on to include endocrine testing, imaging of the glands and ducts, and genetic tests. [R]
Can Male Infertility Be Treated?
In cases where male infertility is related to hormonal imbalance, such as endocrine dysfunction or hypogonadism, sperm production or motility may be increased through the use of certain medical treatment. Usually, the focus is increasing testosterone production, increasing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels, and normalizing the testosterone to estrogen ratio. [R]
Depending on the nature of the testicular defect, surgery, hormonal intervention, or sperm banking may be an appropriate intervention for fertility.
Sperm transport disorders may be resolved through surgery, as in the case of reversing a vasectomy, or through the use of IVF procedures.
ART did not seem to be as successful with male infertility related to sperm DNA damage such as caused by cases of damage to the epididymis [R]
If you’d like to schedule a consultation for male fertility testing contact Pacific Reproductive Center today.