Can Male Infertility Be Cured?

Can Male Infertility Be Cured?

Can Male Infertility Be Cured?

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 1 in 7 couples struggle with infertility, and in nearly half of these cases, male infertility is a contributing factor. Male infertility can be an issue of quantity, like low sperm production, and/or quality, like abnormal sperm function. It can also be an issue of blockages that impact sperm delivery.   

Male-factor infertility is common, yet not as frequently or openly discussed as its female-factor counterpart. This phenomenon likely has its roots in our socialization, specifically when it comes to gender. In cisgender, heterosexual couples, the onus to become pregnant is often placed on women, which can prove to be overwhelming. But men tend to face more external and internal pressure to hide their struggles with fertility, due to a culture that hands down unhealthy ideas of masculinity. This pressure makes it more difficult for both sides of a couple to seek out treatment and ultimately, to conceive.

This is why it’s exceptionally important to be encouraging of these conversations—so that more people can get help with their fertility journey and conceive if they wish.

 Understanding Male Infertility

For a cisgender man to get his female partner pregnant, he must produce healthy sperm with at least one testicle functioning correctly, and enough sperm must be carried into his semen. The function and movement of the sperm is also key, so it can reach and penetrate the egg. 

There are several illnesses and chronic health issues that may contribute to male-factor infertility, including the following:

1) Varicocele, or a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle

2) Infection, such as STIs, including gonorrhea and HIV

3) Ejaculation issues, like retrograde ejaculation

4) Antibodies that attack sperm because they identify the sperm as invaders

5) Tumors, both cancerous and non-malignant

6) Undescended testicles, where the scrotum fails to descend from the abdomen

7) Hormone imbalances, like pituitary, adrenal and thyroid issues

8) Chromosome defects, such as Klinefelter syndrome

9) Problems with sexual intercourse, like erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation

10) Certain medications, including anabolic steroids and chemotherapy

Environmental factors can also play a role. These include industrial chemicals, heavy metal exposure, radiation/X-rays, and overheating of the testicles.

Finally, lifestyle factors can contribute to male infertility. These include drug use, alcohol use, tobacco smoking and carrying excess weight.

 Medical Treatments

Male infertility is complex, but many cases can be successfully treated using lifestyle changes, hormone therapy and surgical techniques.

When a couple is first starting out on their conception journey, and before seeking medical treatment, male fertility tests can be a convenient, at-home first step to get a sense of the concentration of one’s sperm. This can help identify a possible red flag early on, to encourage further follow up with a doctor.

If your doctor confirms issues with sperm production, medications, such as gonadotrophins, can be used to augment the production of sperm, and varicocele repair can also improve the chances of conception.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART) like in vitro fertilization (IVF) have been expanded in access worldwide since the first successful procedure in 1978. IVF is by far the most common ART procedure. It consists of mature eggs being collected and fertilized by sperm in a lab.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) consists of placing specially-prepared sperm directly in the uterus, which can also aid in conception.

Alternative Therapies

Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture and herbal supplements, may be used alongside medical treatments after consulting with a doctor. While studies behind these remedies are largely inconclusive, folks may find them useful if they cause no harm.  

Psychological and Emotional Support

Mental health can often be overlooked in these situations, but infertility is more than a physical problem. It can add plenty of psychological stress to a person’s life, especially in a culture where men are often taught to suffer in silence. The desire to be a father, feelings of not being “masculine enough”, and the financial burden of fertility treatments can all take their toll. Because of this, men, and anyone struggling to conceive for that matter, may find it useful to seek professional support, whether in the form of counseling or finding a support group.

 It's important for people to be encouraged to get help and explore treatment options when faced with infertility. While gender bias continues to play its role in how we perceive this struggle, we must actively work against these biases to create a more nurturing, open environment that allows everyone the opportunity to be proactive when it comes to their reproductive health.  

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