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Similar to female fertility, male fertility also changes with age. As men get older, the quality of their sperm can decline, among other challenges, leading to overall declines in fertility. Solutions do exist and male fertility supplements are leading the way to promote good reproductive health.
However, age is far from the only factor at play when it comes to male infertility. Other causes include structural issues in the genital tract, genetics, hormones and lifestyle choices. Fertility challenges are far from uncommon, and there are treatments available.
How Does Age Affect Male Fertility?
Age certainly plays a role in male fertility. “For men it’s a slower decline,” says Scott Lundy, M.D., a male infertility and sexual medicine staff urologist at Cleveland Clinic. “As we age, the testicles, like any other organ, don’t function as well as they used to.”
For men, aging can affect the quality of their sperm, including the motility, morphology (shape) and concentration, which then makes it more difficult for sperm to fertilize an egg. Men also produce lower sperm counts as they get older.
In general, fertility starts to decline for men when they’re in their late 40s, with up to a 23% annual decline in fertility beginning at age 39. One study suggested that conceiving during a 12-month period was 30% less likely for men who were over the age of 40 compared to men who were under 30 years old. Another study of intrauterine artificial insemination found that after six cycles, men who were 35 or under had a fertility rate of 52%, whereas men over the age of 35 had a fertility rate of 25%
How Common Are Fertility Challenges in Men?
One-third of all fertility challenges are due to male factor infertility, according to the National Institutes of Health, while another third are related to female reproductive factors and the final third can be attributed to a combination of male and female reproductive issues, or unknown causes.
To put those figures into context, about 15% of couples are unable to conceive after one year of having unprotected sex. After two years, 10% still can’t conceive.
Are There Symptoms of Male Infertility?
Often, there aren’t any symptoms of male infertility, aside from the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse. “Most men who have subtly decreased fertility don’t have any symptoms,” says Dr. Lundy.
However, it is possible to have some symptoms such as when fertility issues are related to low testosterone, which may cause issues relating to a man’s sex drive or with getting and/or maintaining an erection.
Causes of Male Infertility
There are four broad categories of causes for male infertility, according to Dr. Lundy: Anatomic issues, genetics, hormones and lifestyle.
More specifically, the Urological Care Foundation lists the following as the primary causes of male infertility:
- Sperm disorders, such as issues making and growing sperm
- Varicoceles, meaning swollen veins in the scrotum that can harm sperm growth
- Retrograde ejaculation, when semen goes back into the body instead of out of it
- Immunologic infertility, which occurs when antibodies are produced that attack the sperm
- Obstruction, referring to a blockage where sperm travel
- Hormones, which can lead to poor growth of sperm
- Medication, as some can impact the growth, function and delivery of sperm