If you’re reading this, you’ve probably thought about having a kid at some point. What many men don’t consider is their own fertility. Your whole life you grow up thinking that having a kid shouldn’t be a problem at all. We’ve all heard of someone that got accidentally pregnant as a teenager. They even made a show about it (16 and pregnant!). Male infertility is not the main topic of discussion, but it should be!
As we grow up, our parents constantly warn us about sex and how easy it is to get pregnant. For some couples, this is the truth! But this is certainly not the case for many couples. 1 in 6 couples in the United States faces infertility issues. What’s surprising for most people is that men and women are equally likely to have a fertility issue.
If you’re considering having a child in the future, be sure to watch out for these 3 causes of male infertility.
It almost sounds like an Italian city! Actually, varicoceles get their name from “varicose” veins. Varicose veins are veins whose one-way flow valves stop working.
Quick high school health class recap: arteries take blood away from the heart and veins bring blood back to the heart. Veins are equipped with small valves inside that force blood to flow from the arteries to the heart. Some veins naturally become wider over time. When this happens, the valves do not function as designed, and blood collects in the vein.
Why are varicose veins bad for fertility? One of the helpful side effects of flowing blood is that it helps carry heat away and distribute it throughout your body. When blood collects in the vein, it doesn’t flow as well as it should be. This causes heat to build up in areas where varicose veins are present.
Varicoceles are varicose veins that are present in the scrotum. They are present in 1 in 5 males, and 40% of men with infertility issues have varicoceles.
Many couples will try to have a child for **years**, then immediately jump to assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF (in vitro fertilization). In cases where varicose veins are the cause of infertility, a relatively simple procedure (a varicocelectomy) can resolve the varicose veins and restore fertility to the male partner.
From a financial standpoint, it is always best to get fertility tests first, followed up by a physician’s physical exam. Varicoceles are easy to identify and resolve, allowing you to have a child faster!
Back to our high school health class lesson! Sperm cells are produced by the seminiferous tubules in the testicles. They leave the seminiferous tubules and are stored in the epididymis – long coiled tubes located on the back of each testicle. Sperm are stored here until they mature and are ready to potentially fertilize a female egg.
When sperm cells leave the epididymis, they enter the vas deferens. This is basically a pipeline connecting the storage section to the ejaculatory ducts and the urethra. This is also where the term “vasectomy” comes from (vas-ectomy). During a vasectomy, the vas deferens is cut and each end is sealed to prevent sperm from traveling through this path.
As you can see, sperm have to travel a long distance to get from the testicles to the urethra – where they will leave the body. If there is a blockage at any point along this path, it can make it difficult for sperm cells to pass.
The most common cause of inflammation of the pathways and blockages are untreated bacterial infections (such as chlamydia and gonorrhea) and developmental defects. This is why it is SO important to get checked for STIs if you are sexually active with multiple partners. Some STIs may have unnoticeable symptoms. It is not good enough to just wait until you notice something out of the ordinary. (HINT: you can check it out here).
Hormone Imbalances Causing Male Infertility
Most people believe that testosterone is the primary hormone that drives sperm production. Although testosterone plays a role, it is not the main hormone.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) are two hormones produced by the pituitary gland. This gland is located in the base of your brain. You can think of these hormones as signals that your brain uses to send information to your testiscles. When your body wants to produce more sperm, your brain produces FSH and LH. The testicles sense the increase in these hormones, they begin to generate sperm cells.
When hormones become imbalanced, it may also lead to decreases in sex drive, which impacts about 16% of men.
Is Male Infertility Impacting Me?
If you’ve made it to this point in our article, you’re probably wondering about what the best way is to see if you have any fertility issues. We created our at-home test kits to make it easy to check in with your fertility and identify potential roadblocks to having a child.
A semen analysis (with at-home collection) is the easiest and most accurate way to determine your fertility metrics. This can provide insight into any fertility issues, and your urologist can most likely identify the cause given the results.