Low Sperm Count
Male infertility refers to an inability to impregnate a woman despite regular sexual intercourse. It is believed that low sperm count is by far the most frequently reported cause of male infertility.
Sperm production and transportation in the semen is a complex process that involves normal functioning of testicles. In addition, adequate functioning of several other organs and glands is also necessary (such as pituitary and hypothalamus) to synthesize the hormones required to trigger the process of sperm production. Once sperms are produced, highly intricate and delicate network of tubes deliver these sperms into the ejaculate. Any disorder, dysfunction or aberration in this normal process can lead to low or dysfunctional sperms.
What Are Some Classic Symptoms Of Low Sperm Count?
The diagnosis of low sperm count (also known as oligospermia) is made if your sperm count is lower than 15 million sperm/ ml of semen. A complete absence of sperm in the ejaculate is referred to as azoospermia.
Unfortunately, males with low sperm count are often asymptomatic. In other words, besides infertility, there may be no apparent sign or symptoms in men with low sperm count. In some rare instances, affected person may manifest some troubling signs such as:
- Changes in the facial/ body hair or other physiological characteristics
- Onset of a painful or painless lump in the groin area
- Sexual dysfunction
These symptoms are often a result of primary etiology that is causing low sperm count in the first place.
What Are Some Notable Causes Of Low Sperm Count?
Some notable causes of low sperm count are:
- Organic disorders of primary reproductive organs such as testicles or glands like hypothalamus, pituitary.
- History of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or exposure to radiations (even long hours of sitting in front of a computer or television) or steam showers can also cause low sperm count (2).
- Any condition that can blocks the passage of sperms such as surgery, inflammatory condition or inhered disorders like cystic fibrosis.
- Hormonal imbalance (especially if adrenal or thyroid gland is involved).
- Dilation of testicular veins (also known as varicocele). This is the most common reversible cause of oligospermia.
- An inherited chromosomal abnormality such as Kartagener’s syndrome, Kallmann’s syndrome etc.
- Undescended testicles, obesity, chronic alcohol use, excessive tobacco smoking are also some notable causes.
- An ongoing or chronic infection such as sexually transmitted infections (like syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, HIV etc.) or other inflammatory disorders (such as epididymitis and orchitis)
- Retrograde ejaculation (or reverse ejaculation) that is often caused by chronic medical conditions like diabetes, spinal injuries, diabetes, etc. In addition, surgeries of urethra, abdomen, inguinal hernia, bladder tumors, testis or prostate gland can also cause low sperm count.
- Chronic use of certain pharmacological agent, especially anti-hypertensive medications like alpha blockers, ulcer medications, use of anabolic steroids, antibiotics, testosterone replacement therapy, antibiotics and antifungals to list a few.
- Autoimmune diseases or production of proteins against sperms (such as anti-sperm antibodies). In addition chronic inflammatory conditions of bowel such as celiac disease can also cause low sperm count in males.
- Chronic exposure to chemicals, industrial toxins and environmental poisons can also cause low sperm count. Few notable examples include; to benzenes, xylene, herbicides, insecticides, toluene, organic solvents, pesticides etc. (3).
- In some rare instances, low sperm count can also be due to poor sampling; i.e. sample collected is inadequate or obtained soon after an ejaculation/ intercourse.
How Can You Improve Your Low Sperm Count?
Male infertility due to low sperm count is a fairly common problem. Oligospermia may decrease your probability to impregnate your partner; nevertheless a normal pregnancy is still possible if adequate measures are adopted. A lot can be done if you or your partner has low sperm count. Few helpful strategies include:
- See your doctor for a comprehensive medical exam to evaluate the organic causes of low sperm count.
- Limit your exposure as well as direct/ indirect intake of toxins and chemicals including alcohol, cigarette smoke, drugs and pharmacological agents and other industrial toxins (2).
- Control your medical issues and chronic health conditions. For example, if low sperm count is due to a surgical condition like varicocele or inguinal hernia, correction of issue can resolve your primary complaint.
- Increase your dietary intake of antioxidants; especially Vitamin C, Vitamin E and selenium that are known to improve reproductive health in males (3).
- Live a stress-free, healthy lifestyle.
Do not let your low sperm count to alter the quality of your life. See a qualified healthcare professional to learn the core cause and most practical solution to your reproductive issues. In addition, you can also get benefitted from a variety of assisted reproductive techniques (ART) to manage your fertility problems.
1. Sharpe, R. M. (2012). Sperm counts and fertility in men: a rocky road ahead. EMBO reports, 13(5), 398-403.
2. Eisenberg, M. L., Kim, S., Chen, Z., Sundaram, R., Schisterman, E. F., & Louis, G. M. B. (2014). The relationship between male BMI and waist circumference on semen quality: data from the LIFE study. Human Reproduction, 29(2), 193-200.
3. Martenies, S. E., & Perry, M. J. (2013). Environmental and occupational pesticide exposure and human sperm parameters: a systematic review. Toxicology, 307, 66-73.