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What are the causes of male infertility?

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Suffering from low sperm count can lead to male infertility

In 33% of the couples that have been advised infertility treatment, it is the husband that is infertile. The main causes of male infertility arise from problems with sperm production and transport. The major causes of male infertility are:

1. Sperm Defects: Sometimes a man is unable to produce sperms which means low sperm count, or if he is able to, they are abnormally shaped and do not function. It may also be that the sperm count (number of sperms in the semen) is very low, or even non-existent. Healthy sperms should also be motile (able to move normally) and in infertile males, this is not the case. This lack of motile sperms is called Azoospermia and low sperm count in semen is known as Oligospermia these are supposed to be the major causes of male infertility.

2. Varicoceles: Varicoceles refer to an enlargement of veins in the scrotum. This in turn leads to a pooling of blood that causes the temperature of the scrotum to rise, thus creating an unfavourable condition for sperm production.

3. Obstructive Disorders: Sperm moves through several tubes in order to finally reach the egg for fertilisation. Obstruction in any of these tubes is another major cause of male infertility. Blockage can happen due to various reasons such as accidental injury to the testes during a prior surgery or sports, infection of the testes, vasectomy (a procedure for male sterilization that involves the tying of sperm-carrying tubes) or even a congenital defect that prevents the necessary transportation of sperm.

4. Immunological Factors: In some cases, a man’s body might react allergically to his own sperm. When this happens, his body produces antibodies that impair sperm function and motility. Vasectomies or trauma to the genital areas might induce the production of such antibodies, which in turn indirectly lead to male infertility.

5. Ejaculation Disorders: ‘Retrograde ejaculation’ is when semen enters the bladder during an orgasm instead of coming out of the tip of the penis. This can be caused by injury, medication, diseases such as diabetes and even surgeries. Another disorder is when some men with spinal cord injuries are able to produce sperm but are unable to ejaculate. In these cases, there is a good chance of the sperm being retrieved and used in fertility treatments.

6. Aging: The age of the male partner is often overlooked when it comes to trying to conceive. Sperm count, motility and sperm structure all decline with an increase in the man’s age. These factors combined in turn causes male infertility.

Apart from the above major causes of male infertility, there are lifestyle factors such as high stress, smoking and drinking, and obesity that cause male infertility. There are also cases where sperm count, motility, quality and all other factors might appear normal, and yet the man is infertile – this is called ‘unexplained infertility’.

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