Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(10):2173-2174

What is infertility?

Infertility is the inability to get pregnant after trying for at least one year without using birth control. About 15 percent of couples are infertile.

Some couples who are diagnosed with infertility may be able to get pregnant without treatment. Because of this, the word “subfertile,” rather than “infertile,” is often used.

How often are male factors involved?

Male factors are involved in about one half of cases. About one third of cases are caused by male factors alone.

What causes male infertility?

The most common cause of male infertility is a varicocele (say this: var-i-ko-seal). This is when the veins in the scrotum are dilated on one or both sides. This heats the inside of the scrotum and may affect sperm production. A blockage also may cause male infertility. This can happen after a vasectomy. Some medicines and improper timing of sex can cause infertility.

Sometimes, the cause of male infertility cannot be identified. In these cases, there may be an underlying genetic problem.

When should I see a doctor?

Usually, a couple should wait to see a doctor until after they've tried to get pregnant for a year. It's OK to see a doctor sooner, especially if the woman's age may be a factor.

Should men be checked for infertility?

Yes. It's important to identify and treat any correctable problems in subfertile men. Some men may have an underlying medical problem causing the infertility that may be found during the doctor's exam.

How is infertility evaluated?

Your doctor will obtain your medical history, examine you, and test your semen at least twice. A semen analysis can tell your doctor about sperm count and sperm quality, which are important parts of fertility. More testing may be needed.

Is male infertility treatable?

More than one half of cases of male infertility can be corrected. Treatment may help a couple get pregnant naturally. Even if you can't get pregnant naturally, you may need less expensive or less invasive treatments to get pregnant. If the man needs surgery to correct the problem, it can be an outpatient procedure. This means no overnight stay in the hospital.

Where can I get more information?

In addition to talking with your family doctor and your urologist, you can visit these Web sites for more information:

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