June is Men’s Health Month, so now is a great time to learn more about optimizing male fertility – especially since male infertility is so common. Of all couples struggling to get pregnant, approximately one-third have a problem regarding sperm production or function. Many times, such abnormalities can be identified through a semen analysis. In other cases, problems still exist with sperm even with normal semen analysis results.
What causes abnormalities in sperm?
There are many causes of sperm abnormalities. Childhood illnesses, such as mumps, can cause long-term problems in semen production. Additionally, a history of testicular trauma can permanently injure the testicle and its sperm production. Damage to the vas deferens, sometimes caused by a hernia operation, can cause anatomic blockages that prevent sperm from being transported to the testicle.
In other cases, hormonal signaling defects prevent normal semen production. Some genetic problems in the Y chromosome have been linked to abnormalities in sperm production. A collection of vessels in the scrotum known as a varicocele also cause problems with sperm motility. In many cases, however, experts cannot identify a definitive cause of abnormal sperm production, even after an exhaustive workup is performed.
If a semen analysis reveals abnormalities, the first step in treatment involves a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation to help guide your options. This evaluation includes checking testosterone levels and hormones produced by the brain that drive sperm production. Other hormone levels such as thyroid and prolactin are evaluated, too. If some of these levels are abnormal, then a relatively easy correction may be possible. Also, genetic testing for abnormalities in the Y chromosome are also performed.
In cases where hormonal abnormalities are identified, Clomid is commonly used to help augment sperm production. Some men may benefit from certain supplements, such as L-Carnitine. Additionally, limiting testicular exposure to very warm environments may also be beneficial. Some experts recommend wearing boxers instead of briefs, for example. Certain lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, alcohol use, and some medications can alter sperm production and quality.
In some cases, removal of a varicocele may help sperm motility and production. Doctors may also recommend seeing a urologist for a testicular ultrasound and further treatment.
For many men, there is no pill or surgery that will significantly alter sperm production or function. Treatment options including IUI and IVF are ultimately very effective for many men when more conservative options are not successful.
For more information about optimizing male fertility or to schedule an appointment, please contact the doctors at Fertility Associates of Memphis at 901-747-2229.