Men overtake women as cause of infertility

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The Independent Online

Men are overtaking women as the root of infertility in relationships, according to a recent study which shows that, for the first time, male causes are more common than female causes in diagnoses of fertility problems.

Men are overtaking women as the root of infertility in relationships, according to a recent study which shows that, for the first time, male causes are more common than female causes in diagnoses of fertility problems.

Factors such as declining sperm counts, obesity and smoking were largely to blame for the rise, which saw male causes creep from 50 to 51 per cent.

Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) shows that in 81 per cent of couples fertility problems can be narrowed down to whether the cause lies with the man or the woman, although a definite diagnosis may still not be made.

The findings were presented at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) in Copenhagen yesterday.

Clare Brown, the chief executive of the Infertility Network, said: "When I talk to people about infertility, they tend to automatically assume that it is a woman's problem and are genuinely surprised to find out that it's pretty much 50-50. I think it is down to the fact that men still don't like to talk about the fact that they may have a problem - they see it as an attack on their virility.

"Couples don't like to talk about their fertility problems in general, but it happens even more with men, and that contributes to the myth that it is a woman's problem, when in fact it could be either one or both of them."

As well as lifestyle factors, experts said that men were becoming fathers at an older age as their partners delayed motherhood. Other studies presented at the conference this week have shown how the sperm of older men is at increased risk of DNA damage, making it less likely that fertilisation will occur.

Experts also pointed to the huge rise in a type of fertility treatment that is mainly used in couples in which the problem lies with the man.

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) involves injecting a single sperm across the membrane of an egg to make a fertilised embryo, which is then implanted into the woman.

The procedure, which was first introduced in 1993, has proved to be successful in cases where a man has poor quality sperm, because only one is needed for the procedure.

Use of ICSI made up only 43 per cent of IVF cycles in 1997, but in 2002 accounted for 52 per cent of all fertility procedures.

More than 3,000 babies a year are now born in Britain as a result of ICSI treatment.

Across Europe, more than 122,000 ICSI cycles were performed last year, compared to 113,000 conventional IVF procedures, according to a report by the ESHRE committee.

Dr Anders Nyboe-Andersen, the coordinator of the committee, said: "There are probably many reasons why ICSI has become more prevalent. One of them could be that the relative causes of infertility are shifting. We see less and less infertility caused by severe tubal problems in women, but male subfertility seems to be increasing.

"Perhaps the data on declining sperm quality are true. Maybe the environmental factors are playing an increasing role as the planet becomes more polluted and factors that disrupt the endocrine system are in the food chain."

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