Common ailments

Male infertility

My wife and I, who are both in our early thirties, have been trying for a baby for more than a year now. My wife is eager for us to get tested to see if there’s an underlying problem, but I’m worried that the problem might lie with me. What are some of the reasons for male infertility?

Around one in seven couples in the UK have difficulty conceiving. For every 100 couples trying to conceive naturally, an average of 84 will conceive within one year. Of those couples who do not conceive in the first year, about half will do so in the second year. It is however a good idea for couples to visit their GP where they have failed to conceive after a year of trying.

Infertility can be caused by a number of different things. It can be caused by the man alone, by the woman alone, and in some cases by both partners. In men, infertility can be caused by low levels of the male hormone testosterone, or thyroid hormone. It can also be due to problems with the testicles, e.g. damage from trauma or infection, and certain types of medicines can sometimes cause infertility problems. These include psychiatric medicines, anabolic steroids - often used illegally to build muscle and improve athletic performance – and some herbal remedies.

The most common reason for male infertility however is a problem with sperm due to an unknown cause. Possible reasons include a reduced number of sperm, reduced mobility of sperm (making it harder for sperm to swim to and fertilise the egg) or abnormally formed sperm.

Other factors that can adversely affect fertility in both men and women include smoking, drinking too much alcohol and being overweight.

Before you jump to any conclusions on why you and your wife have been unable to conceive to date, I would advise that you both visit your GP. They will be able to arrange for tests to be carried out to determine if there is a problem. This will probably involve you providing a simple sperm sample for analysis, and tests to determine your wife’s overall reproductive health.

In the meantime, it is worth bearing in mind that problems with fertility often have a solution which results in a healthy baby.

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