Open and honest discussions about infertility and available treatments such as in vitro fertilization are slowly losing their old-fashioned stigma, which is a huge step forward for society and a relief for the millions of couples in the U.S. who have fertility issues. But many people are still mistakenly under the assumption that the reason a couple is unable to conceive a child has everything to do with a woman and the health of her eggs.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, of the 12 percent of infertile couples out there, the men are infertile in about 30 to 35 percent of these relationships, says Alina Baciu, a general surgery resident and editor for TryHealthier.com.
“When people think of infertility, the first thing that pops up in their head is that the woman needs hormonal treatment, that she has problems, etc.,” Baciu says. “In reality, men are just as prone to infertility problems. More alarmingly, these problems can have an early onset and often go undetected until the male is ready to have children.”
Men may not be taught to share the same concerns as women about their childbearing years, but if a man agrees to have his sperm tested and it is determined that there is an issue with his sperm, he could correct the problem early. There are ways to fix these issues with modern technology and fertility treatments, says Dr. Mark Surrey, medical director and co-founder of Southern California Reproductive Center.
“We believe all men should have their sperm tested, regardless of age,” Surrey says. “Also, we not only recommend that they have their sperm count tested but also the morphology, or sperm structure, tested as well.”
The first step in diagnosing a man’s fertility begins with a semen analysis test in which a specialist looks for signs that might be alarming, such as a large number of sperm that has irregular morphology (big head, no tail, two tails, etc.), impaired motility and less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen, Baciu says. This test doesn’t just serve as a way of gaining insight into a man’s fertility; it can also speak volumes about a person’s health.
“A low sperm count can be a sign of the presence of more alarming conditions such as infections of epididymis or testicles and some sexually transmitted infections, including gonorrhea or HIV,” Baciu says. “A low sperm count can also be attributed to hormonal imbalances. Hormones produced by the hypothalamus, pituitary gland and testicles play a key role in the production of sperm. Other alarming conditions associated with low sperm count are varicocele (swelling of the veins that drain the testicles), tumors, celiac disease and immune system defects (antibodies that attack sperm).”
A low sperm count can even be attributed to poor lifestyle decisions and habits. If a young man suffers from obesity or is a heavy smoker, drinker or drug user, Baciu says these choices can result in poor sperm quality and quantity. The sooner he takes control of his health, the more likely his overall health will improve.
Your significant other may be young. He may eat right and hit the gym daily. But, as these experts explain, the state of his sperm tells an important tale about his health. A sperm test should be regarded the same way we think of other physical examinations. It’s time to change the way we think about infertility.