It’s not just a women’s issue
Struggling to fall pregnant? Usually women are the first to seek help when trying to conceive. However, if the woman has been thoroughly examined and it is not due to her that she is unable to fall pregnant, it falls to the male partner to be tested. According to a study published in 2015, infertility affects about 15 per cent of couples globally, amounting to about 48.5-million couples. The study also found that males are found to be solely responsible for 20-30 per cent of infertility cases and contribute to about 50 per cent of cases overall. Furthermore, at least 30 million men worldwide are infertile with the highest rates in Africa and Eastern Europe. If a male factor is what’s making it tough for a woman and her partner to conceive, it’s important to understand what may be causing his infertility and what the couple’s options are. Charlene Yared West speaks to the experts to find out more…
Infertility and feelings of inadequacy and impotence
“Research indicates that the male partner is not willing to seek medical advice about infertility. They feel embarrassment for not being able conceive naturally and suffer guilt, self-blame and shame,” says Dr Liezel Anguelova, Counselling Psychologist at Life Roseacres Hospital. “Many men do not feel comfortable with the testing procedure as it includes the examination of their testicles and penis and the production of a sperm sample. As such, men often associate infertility with impotence, when they are actually unrelated.” Dr Anguelova explains how infertility can be devastating to the man who experiences the failure of his procreative nature, as it is so intrinsically linked to his sexuality. “It is often an assault on the masculinity of the male partner and it is not uncommon for him to develop sexual problems such the loss of sexual desire or erectile dysfunction, which can leave him feeling that he is ‘less of a man’,” she says.
|What causes male infertility?According to Dr Sulaiman Heylen, Specialist in reproductive medicine at Life Kingsbury Hospital, male infertility is diagnosed by an abnormal semen analysis. “We always start at the beginning of the fertility testing with the semen analysis. We don’t want to do a lot of testing on the female without knowing what the male factor is. Semen analysis is very easy and inexpensive.”|
There are three parameters important in the semen analysis according to 2010 WHO criteria:
1. sperm count: must be over 15 million sperm per milliliter.
2. sperm motility (how they move): 50% of sperms cells must be motile.
3. sperm morphology (their shape): at least 4% of the sperm cells must have a normal morphology.
“If one of these parameters is abnormal we speak of male infertility in combination with an inability to conceive,” he explains. Dr Heylen lists the following as possible causes of male infertility;Varicocele: These are varicose veins of the testis, they can contribute to up to 30% of all cases of male infertility. Trauma of the testicles; related to accidents or sports injuries.Sexual transmitted disease which can lead to infections of the testis and blockage of the epididymis (tubes of the testis)Mumps of the testis.Pollution and environmental factors (estrogen like factors in the environment): These are called xenoestrogens. Estrogen is the normal female hormone. Xenoestrogens are chemical compounds that mimic estrogen. There is more and more evidences that pollution and environmental factors can contribute to male infertility.Unhealthy lifestyle: Obesity, excessive alcohol, smoking and drugs. Anabolic drugs are well known to cause low sperm counts. Antibodies that attack sperm: Anti-sperm antibodies are immune system cells that mistakenly identify sperm as harmful invaders and attempt to destroy them.Undescended testes: During fetal development one or both testicles sometimes fail to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum. Genetic: there are genetic defects in the chromosomes or small defects of the Y-chromosome. Unknown: We not always can identify the cause of the low sperm count.
How is male infertility uncovered?
Urologist, Dr Dap Louw from Life Beacon Bay Hospital explains how the physical examination entails a general exam, evaluation of the testes ( volume, masses, varicocele, infections, etc) and a prostate exam if needed. “The basis of the evaluation starts with taking a thorough medical history. We normally do a pelvic and scrotal ultrasound as well, to evaluate the testicular tissue and to look for signs of sperm transport blockage. Other more invasive diagnostic methods can be used especially when there is little or no sperm seen in the ejaculate. This would then be aimed at distinguishing between abnormal sperm production or blockage of sperm transport,” he says.
What treatment is available?
Dr Louw explains that treatment is aimed at the underlying problem whether it is advice on a healthier lifestyle, surgical correction of a testicular abnormality or medically treating an underlying infection, sexual dysfunction or hormonal abnormality. “When there is no urological correctable contributing cause to the infertility, I then like take a multidisciplinary approach and get the infertility specialists and/or gynaecologists involved,” says Dr Louw. “Together we can then decide on further optimal treatment, according to their hormonal levels, semen analysis and then also female factors. These can then vary from medical treatment, sperm washing with artificial insemination, IVF (in-vitro fertilization) or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).” Dr Louw always emphasises to his patients that 20-30% of sub-fertile couples end up falling pregnant without any further help, which is positive – as nature is on their side! “Anxiety about infertility also plays a significant role and it is important to explain the normal conceiving time of 6-12 ovulatory cycles,” he says. “It does unfortunately happen where our patient is not able to have children and the couple would need to discuss alternate options like sperm donation or adoption.”
|Can a couple survive infertility treatment?Infertility can be a relationship maker or breaker depending on how it is managed says Dr Anguelova. “It will put your relationship to the test, but if you focus on the importance of your relationship, it could be used as a opportunity to make your relationship stronger.” She shares some tips for surviving infertility;Stay in the moment, because it can be very overwhelming. Wait for each doctor’s visit to gather information on the process before making decisions and planning ahead. Communicate openly and honestly to address unmet expectations, fears, frustrations and stress. Find professional assistance and counselling if you are not communicating effectively. Do not get caught in a blame game of resentment, but rather become committed as a team. Remain positive about yourself and your partner.Keep your sexual relationship spontaneous and full of fun and nurture intimacy by touching, hugging and kissing outside of a sexual connotation.Do not let your entire life be merged into the fertility treatment process. Continue with other hobbies and keep other dreams alive.Build a support system. Support each other and include friends and family in the process.|