Signs and Symptoms

Statistically, a couple's failure to achieve conception is equally as likely to result from a problem with the man as with the woman.

Over the last several decades, concern has risen about the impact of industrialization on reproductive health. This concern stems largely from reports showing that semen quality of men in Europe and the United States has decreased over the latter half of the 20th century. The environmental toxins most often cited as potential contributors to infertility can be organized into physical, chemical, occupational and lifestyle factors. Hyperthermia (increased temperature), radiation and electromagnetic fields, for example, are several physical factors that have been linked to infertility in men. Cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, marijuana and cocaine use as well as caffeine intake may contribute to chemical causes of infertility. Occupational hazards such as some pesticides, industrial toxins like dioxin and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and exposure to heavy metals also may be linked to infertility. Finally, stress, nutrition and other lifestyle factors also can play a role.

Any fertility treatment may be expected to have an effect on semen quality roughly three months after it is started, as this is the length of time required for a single cycle of spermatogenesis, or sperm production. If neither surgical nor medical therapy is appropriate, assisted reproductive technologies are possible.

In choosing a treatment plan, consideration should be given to each couple's long-term goals and financial constraints and the results of the female partner's evaluation in addition to male factor findings.

Male Symptoms

Some men experience physical symptoms that indicate a cause of infertility and assist the healthcare provider to make a diagnosis, while others have none.

A change in the size of a man's testes and weight gain or loss can be relevant. Reporting symptoms in a timely fashion can help your physician make a diagnosis and bring you and your partner one step closer to your goal. 

Here you will find descriptions of symptoms that can be linked to male infertility. They have been categorized according to how they manifest themselves, such as through infection or physical indicators.

They are categorized into 2 groups:

  • Infections

  • Physical signs/symptoms

Infections

Certain infections have been known to affect a man’s fertility. In most instances the impact is minimal, but in the case of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the effects can be severe.

  • Mumps

If a man has had mumps as an adult or a child, it should be mentioned to the healthcare provider or specialist. Commonly the virus affects only the glands below the jaw, which does not usually compromise fertility. If, however, the virus affects the testicles, it can cause a condition called mumps orchitis. Approximately one-third of these men will experience reduced testicular function that can lead to abnormal sperm count or motility.

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

Chlamydia can do permanent damage if not treated and can eventually cause infertility. Even if a man had chlamydia in the past and was treated for it, the residual effects can be destructive. If a man has been treated for STDs in the past (especially chlamydia), one of the following infertility diagnoses may apply:

  • Azoospermia

  • Epididymitis

  • Sperm Problems

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Recurrent UTIs are not necessarily a sign of an infertility problem, but may be indicative of other problems. If a man has them regularly, it should be mentioned to the healthcare provider since it may suggest an immunological problem.

Physical Symptoms

Some men may be symptomatic while others may need a healthcare provider to detect the problem. Some physical symptoms can indicate an underlying infertility problem.

  • Swollen Testes

The man himself is the best judge of whether or not his testicles are swollen.

If the testes appear to be swollen, this may suggest epididymitis -- a condition in which the epididymis (the site of sperm storage) becomes inflamed.

  • Undescended Testes

Undescended testes are usually surgically corrected at a very young age, however it is still important to inform the healthcare provider since the correction may have caused a hernia. If the condition wasn't corrected, the scrotal sac will still be present, but will feel empty. This may indicate an infertility condition called cryptorchidism.

  • Vasectomy and Vasectomy Reversals

If a man has had a vasectomy reversal, his healthcare provider should be informed. Vasectomy reversals are not always successful and can cause a man to develop problems later on such as blockages, sperm problems and azoospermia.