Male fertility: how a fertility specialist can increase your chances of conceiving

Almost one in eight couples will seek help about their fertility or difficulties when trying to conceive.

A third of these may have male fertility related issues that could be preventing the couple from getting pregnant. As such, it is crucial that men think about their fertility and seek help when needed.

Factors that can affect male fertility

Male fertility can be affected by a variety of factors. These include smoking, heavy or binge alcohol consumption, use of recreational substances such as cocaine or cannabis, excessive caffeine intake, an unhealthy diet, exposure to hot temperatures, tight clothing, obesity, stress or exposure to chemicals in your immediate environment. If you suffer from any medical illness or are taking medications for an illness, then there is a possibility that this will affect your fertility. Sometimes, there may be certain hereditary conditions, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, which can lead to very low sperm count or, in rare situations, azoospermia. Azoospermia refers to complete absence of sperm in the seminal fluid. These are just a few of the factors and not an exhaustive list.


Impact on sperm count

It is important to understand how these factors can affect sperm health or male fertility. The sperms are produced within highly specialised structures or tubules in testis. The process of development and maturation is delicate and intricate. It takes many days for an immature sperm cell to develop into a mature sperm cell capable of fertilising an egg. It can be influenced by various environmental or health-related factors. When affected it can lead to low sperm count, low sperm motility or low sperm movement. It can also lead to a higher proportion of abnormally shaped sperms causing low normal sperm morphology. All of these aspects can affect sperm function and ultimately lead to male infertility.


Preventing problems with male fertility

Like any other aspect of health, prevention is better than cure, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle and looking after your health is important.It is important to assess and review your lifestyle to identify if any aspect of it may compromise your fertility. It is important to address these factors not only with regard to fertility but also to take care of your long-term health. It is well known that smoking can affect male fertility and lead to low sperm count or sperm motility or sperm morphology on semen analysis. If you are a smoker, then you should quit smoking. You can either do this on your own or participate in the smoking cessation programme at your Doctor’s surgery. You should limit alcohol intake to just a few units each week. Besides smoking and alcohol, you should think of reducing your caffeine intake. Obese men with higher body mass index or BMI may have poorer sperm health such as low sperm count or low motility or low normal sperm morphology. Therefore, maintaining regular exercise is beneficial not only for your general health but also for your fertility. Overly vigorous exercise, especially when wearing tight clothing for prolonged periods of time, may affect sperm health.


Speak to a fertility specialist

If you suffer from a medical illness, it is important that you check with a fertility specialist or GP whether it could affect male fertility. If you are taking regular medicines, again you should check with your doctor or see a fertility specialist find out whether it may lead to oligozoospermia or low sperm count.

If you suffer from a medical illness or take prescription medicine, then it may be worthwhile speaking to your Doctor or fertility specialist to check your fertility. This can be done either before you have started or after you have been trying unsuccessfully for some time. In rare cases, especially with serious illnesses or where treatment has the potential to affect fertility, you may consider freezing sperm as a back-up or for fertility preservation, especially if you wish to have more children. If you have other family members who have faced difficulties conceiving, then again you may want to discuss this with your Doctor or Fertility specialist.

It is common for couples to get themselves checked out even before they have started trying to conceive. This can be arranged as part of couple fertility MOT or Male fertility MOT. The sperm health can be checked by doing a basic semen analysis. A semen analysis can be arranged by contacting a fertility clinic in your area. Most NHS fertility clinics will do semen analysis only for those couples who have been unsuccessfully trying for at least a year.

If you identify any one of the factors and have not completed your family, then you should either speak to your Doctor or to a fertility specialist. If you are seeing a specialist for your condition, then discuss the effect of the condition on fertility with the specialist. Also, you should discuss with the specialist managing your condition the effect of any medicines that you have been prescribed. Besides prescription medicines, you should specifically ask about the impact of any planned operations on fertility where relevant. There are some things that individuals can address on their own such as weight management, smoking cessation or cutting down on alcohol consumption.


Fertility assessment

It is very much possible to do an overall fertility self-assessment. If there are any identifiable factors, or for individuals who prefer to be informed about their health, it may be worthwhile to see a fertility specialist and take some basic fertility tests. Couples who are thinking of starting a family may also consider going for couple fertility tests or fertility MOT. Those who are thinking of delaying starting or completing a family may also benefit from such tests. For women, the fertility check can be either a full assessment of basic fertility or a more directed approach. The full basic fertility assessment will include tests to check the ovarian reserve and fallopian tubes. The directed approach may be considered based on the individual assessment by a fertility specialist. In men, basic semen analysis serves as an initial screening test.

For most individuals or couples, a normal fertility assessment is reassuring. A normal fertility assessment means that there is no reduction in their chances of getting pregnant when they actively start trying to conceive. However, a normal fertility test does not guarantee fertility. Hopefully, in the future, there will be tests that can give clearer answers so that individuals and couples can make better-informed decisions.