When trying for a baby, approximately 1 in 6 couples will struggle to conceive. For some of these couples, a diagnosis of male infertility will be the root cause.
Male infertility can be due to many things; low sperm production, blockages or abnormal sperm shapes being the most common. These factors may make it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg for fertilisation to take place.
Male infertility is on the rise, with more couples around the world being affected each year. Such statistics have kickstarted a global research project into male infertility. The Male Reproductive Health Initiative (MRHI) is a collective of male infertility experts from around the world who are dedicated to developing the science and care pathways surrounding male reproductive health.
By collaborating with professional societies, the experts will provide education to different sources about male factor fertility. The MHRI aims to explore these four main issues:
- The importance and significance of male reproductive health.
- Overall male health and illness and whether they influence fertility.
- The man’s role in the health and wellbeing of his children.
- The burden that female partners carry when seeking a diagnosis and treatment for infertility.
1 in 3 couples who are experiencing male infertility will be affected by a low sperm count. If you’re struggling to conceive, the first step is to visit your GP. The doctor will refer the male for a semen analysis. A semen analysis will assess the following:
- The sperm count. In your analysis report, this will be referred to as the ‘concentration’.
- How the sperm move — this is the ‘motility’.
- What the sperm look like under the microscope — the ‘morphology’.
- The volume — this looks at the total production of semen in the sample.
- The PH level of your sperm.
- Liquefaction — this determines how long it takes for the semen to become a liquid. At first, most semen comes out very thick and gloopy.
All the above will be reported on and discussed with you by a healthcare professional. Be rest assured that the accuracy of the test results is of high quality; the World Health Organisation provides a standard tool that is used when performing a semen analysis and its reference values are used for comparison when analysing the sample.
Whether you’re ready to start a family or not, a semen analysis can still be a valuable tool for assessing your fertility health. But if you are looking to conceive, there are many treatments available to support male factor fertility if the results of the semen analysis do indicate that there is a problem; these can all be discussed with you by a fertility specialist.
For example, research has found that men could benefit from taking some form of antioxidant before undergoing fertility investigations. A Cochrane review of a research study into male fertility and antioxidants suggested that if the male partner regularly took supplements that contain zinc, magnesium and L-carnitine, the chances of conception could increase.
In addition to the supplement, men should have a well-balanced diet, limit alcohol and caffeine intake as well as ensuring regular exercise. Being a non-smoker is also helpful.
It’s also crucial to acknowledge that fertility issues can impact a man’s stress levels and emotional wellbeing. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, it’s helpful to reach out and talk to people. There are family, friends and healthcare professionals that are here to support you on this journey, so always ensure you’re accessing the right help from the people who will make you feel positive and safe.