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In vitro fertilization (IVF)Nov 1, 2020

IVF - Why men matter

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A common statistic you will hear in relation to fertility is that 1 in 6 couples worldwide struggles to conceive. Many people assume that in the majority of these cases of infertility, treatments such as IVF are used to overcome female fertility issues. However, it has been found that over a third of cases are due to male factor infertility. Today, as part of our Fertility Awareness initiative, we are shining a spotlight on male fertility issues and encouraging men to speak up on their experiences because #MenMatter.

What are the causes of male infertility?

Generally, millions of sperm cells are produced in the testes every day, with each sperm remaining in the testes for approximately 10 weeks. The most common cause of male infertility is the sperm being of low quality. Common sperm abnormalities are:

  • Low sperm count, or no sperm present at all

  • Sperm that are not moving properly

  • Abnormally shaped sperm – making it harder for them to move and fertilise an egg

Problems with sperm are a common issue and can occur for a number of reasons including lifestyle factors, testicular infections or injury, hormonal defects, cancer, genetic conditions and uses of different medicines. It is also worth noting that fertility can change over time, even if you have already fathered a child. This may be due to illness, a change in lifestyle or age.

Fertility tests for men

The first test when looking at male fertility is a semen analysis which, in addition to the sample’s volume and pH, assesses the following:

  • Sperm count: The number of sperm present in each millilitre of semen

  • Sperm motility: How well the sperm are moving

  • Sperm morphology: The number of sperm that are of normal size and shape

The results from this test can help to diagnose possible sperm problems and to help determine which treatment is required.

Which fertility treatments can help to overcome male infertility?

Treatment of male infertility is tailored to the individual, and there may be simple lifestyle changes that can be made in order to improve the quality of the sperm. However, in some cases, treatment may be required, with options including:

  • ICSI: In many cases of male factor infertility, a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is used. This is when sperm is injected directly into the egg as part of the IVF process. This can help to overcome low sperm count or motility.

  • Surgical sperm retrieval: Men who have no sperm in the ejaculate may have to have sperm surgically retrieved prior to ICSI.

  • Donor sperm: In some cases, it may be that donor sperm is required in order to achieve a pregnancy, through known or altruistic donation. One of the first questions you need to ask yourself is whether donor conception is the right fertility treatment for you. Special counselling sessions are available at fertility clinics to discuss the implications and feelings surrounding donor treatments.

What support is available for men as they go through fertility treatment?

Male fertility issues can often be seen as a taboo subject, and research has found that over half of men wouldn’t be open to discussing infertility with their partner. Due to the fact that men are less likely to be open about their feelings during fertility treatment, it can be challenging to find someone to talk to and confide in who understands.

Fertility counselling

Fertility counselling is available to you throughout treatment at all of our clinics, giving you the opportunity to talk through your concerns with a trained and qualified professional. This can help you cope, make the best choices for you and feel in control again. If you are interested in exploring fertility counselling, get in touch with your fertility clinic.

Other resources you may wish to explore:

Fertility Network UK  The National Charity is for anyone experiencing fertility problems.

HIMfertility – The HIMfertility campaign was set up by comedian, Rhod Gilbert, to encourage men to talk about fertility problems and to connect them and their partners to much-needed support.

Men’s Health Forum – The Men’s Health Forum is a charity supporting men’s health in England, Wales and Scotland.

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