An andrologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders relating to the male reproductive system, especially sexual function and fertility. Andrology is the field of medicine devoted to male reproductive processes and includes the study of sperm and the processes surrounding the creation of sperm and its journey to conception. Andrologists are trained medics who have completed several years of post-graduate medicine in a variety of fields and have then chosen to undertake further training and specialise in the care of men who have problems with their reproductive abilities.
Although an andrologist is a doctor who only directly cares for men, the nature of fertility treatments can mean working closely with the couple trying to conceive, and so andrologists work with gynaecologists (doctors who specialise in the female reproductive system) too. Male fertility doctors also work with embryologists, obstetricians, sexual health specialists and sexual function counsellors. The field of fertility treatment is at the forefront of cutting-edge medicine and technology, and complex fertility treatments and investigations may be done in life sciences centres as well as in specialist clinics and hospitals. Occasionally, fertility treatments for men may involve having surgery, and so andrology and genitourinary medicine are closely linked to their counterpart surgical specialties.
Couples who are struggling to conceive through conventional means may need investigations into the reasons behind their low fertility. Reduced fertility can be attributed to either the male or female partner, or to both. Male infertility can be caused by a number of different issues, particularly reduced quality of seminal fluid (ejaculate) through low sperm count, slow or structurally abnormal male sex cells (sperm). The reason for reduced fertility will help the andrologist decide how to improve matters.
Andrologists also treat men who suffer from sexual difficulties such as erectile dysfunction. This is intrinsically linked with fertility issues, but can also be a problem in itself and have an understandably serious effect on quality of life, not only for the affected man but for his sexual partner as well.
A consultation with an andrologist will involve a discussion of any problems, symptoms, and desired outcomes. An andrologist will also perform an external examination of the male reproductive organs. Doctors specialising in the male reproductive system are very experienced and have a good understanding of the psychological and physical response to this kind of examination, and will always explain what they’re doing and try to make their patients feel as comfortable as possible. They may also recommend further investigations such as ultrasound scans to look for any internal abnormalities of the genitals, and to study the blood flow to the penis and testes. Investigations into male fertility will involve studies of the semen. If an impaired ability to ejaculate is part of the problem, there are surgical procedures available for sperm collection, but most sperm samples are collected in private by self-induced ejaculation. If the female partner trying to conceive is also undergoing investigations, both partners’ results may be collated to try and identify the cause of infertility and plan the best course of action to help the couple conceive.