Low Sperm Count: Causes, Symptoms, And Solutions

Low Sperm Count

Low Sperm Count

The male reproductive system is responsible for the production, storage, and transportation of sperms, or the male gametes. Sperms are produced in the testes and are released from the body in the form of semen during the process of ejaculation. Fertilization occurs only when a sperm fuses with an ovum, which leads to the formation of a zygote.

To increase the probability of this happening, it is preferable to have a greater number of sperms entering the female body. The environment surrounding the ovum is such that it kills most of the sperms that enter, and only the most capable ones are able to make it to the egg. Out of these, it is the best swimmer (or shooter) that wins.

Low sperm count, or oligospermia (oligozoospermia), refers to a condition wherein the ejaculated semen contains fewer than normal sperms. More specifically, the sperm concentration is lesser than 15 million sperm per millimeter of semen. A complete absence of sperms in the semen can also occur and is termed as azoospermia.

A low sperm count decreases the chances of being able to conceive naturally, though it is still possible. Problems regarding low sperm count are quite common and hence many treatments are available for the same. Here is a detailed overview of the situation and the methods to overcome it.

Causes

The process of sperm production and ejaculation is a complex one, which requires the involvement of various subprocesses and organs, and the malfunctioning of any of these can cause problems. The entire affair includes the involvement of the testes and pituitary glands for production, tubes for transportation, and the penis for ejaculation.

The reason for decreased sperm count can also be abnormal function, motility, or morphology. These are mainly due to medical, environmental, and lifestyle causes.

Medical Causes

Many health conditions and their treatments can lead to a decline in male fertility. These include cancers and nonmalignant tumors, which negatively affect the male sex organs. Infections like epididymitis and orchitis, which cause inflammation of the epididymis and testicles respectively, along with STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) like HIV can cause permanent damage.

Health conditions like diabetes can result in instances of retrograde ejaculation, wherein the semen enters the bladder instead of coming out of the body via the penis. There can also be cases of hormonal imbalances which will lead to hypogonadism.

Problems can also be due to birth defects, such as when one or both testicles fail to descend into the scrotum from the abdomen during fetal development. There is also room for chromosome abnormalities that cause disorders such as cystic fibrosis, Kallmann’s syndrome, Klinefelter’s syndrome, and Kartagener’s syndrome.

Certain medications (like alpha-blockers) hinder sperm production and ejaculation. Prior surgeries, like vasectomy, prostate surgeries, and hernia repairs among others, also lead to sperm complications. There can be blockages anywhere in the pathway of the sperm, starting from the testicles to the urethra. It can also be due to morphology defects in the tubules, epididymis, or the vas deferens.

Anti-sperm antibodies can be formed by the immune system that identifies sperms as harmful pathogens and attempts to kill them. Celiac disease, an immune reaction to eating too much gluten, can also have an impact on one’s sperm health.

Varicoceles are one of the most common reasons behind a low sperm count, which is actually a swelling of the veins that drains the testicles. This is associated with abnormal testicular temperature regulation and significantly reduces sperm quality and quantity.

Environmental Causes

Environmental factors also have an important role to play in the maintenance of proper sperm health. The ideal sperm conditions require a temperature slightly lower than the body temperature, and hence the scrotum is placed outside the abdominal cavity. 

Elevated temperatures can cause overheating of the testicles, and thus lower sperm production. Extended exposure to pesticides, solvents, herbicides, and other industrial chemicals or heavy metals also have similar effects. Exposure to radiation from X-rays can cause permanent damage, and hence it is advisable to maintain a safe distance from such procedures.

Lifestyle Causes

Lifestyle habits can also affect sperm health and lead to a low sperm count. Using drugs like cocaine and marijuana has been linked to low sperm quantity. Anabolic steroids that stimulate muscle strength and growth also cause the testicles to shrink and thus a decrease in sperm production. 

Alcohol abuse and smoking lower testosterone levels in the body, which directly impacts one’s sperm health. Prolonged stress and depression also lead to hormonal imbalances. Obesity is another prime factor responsible for the decrease in sperm quality and quantity.

Symptoms

It is very difficult to identify problems in sperm count without actually trying to start a family. However, often this decrease is due to certain underlying problems that do have symptoms. These include blockages and other testicular issues, hormonal imbalances, and chromosome defects.

Hence, some symptoms that can be indicative of a sperm problem are:

  • A lump, swelling or pain in or around the testicles
  • Low sex drive
  • Less body/facial hair
  • Erectile dysfunction

Solutions

Male infertility is often not an incurable disease and can be fixed by making lifestyle changes, trying home remedies, using medications, or medical treatment. Some lifestyle changes that can help reduce the problem are:

  • Avoid alcohol and drug abuse
  • Exercise and maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid exposure to harmful chemicals and heat
  • Quit smoking
  • Try to minimize stress

Other solutions that can help tackle low sperm count include:

Surgery

Conditions like varicoceles or retrograde ejaculation, which are due to defects in the body often require surgery to be fully corrected. These surgeries are safe to perform and the results are mostly positive. Assisted reproduction procedures like IVF (in vitro fertilization) are also prevalent in which sperms are surgically retrieved from the testes.

Medications

Medications and supplements can be used to improve sperm count. Some of these are:

  • Folic acid
  • Aescin
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Zinc
  • Panax ginseng
  • L-carnitine
  • Nigella sativa

Hormonal Treatments

One can opt for hormonal treatments that will help maintain a balance in the body’s hormones. This is vital for the proper functioning of all reproductive glands, and the production of an adequate amount of sperms in the first place.

Counseling

A lot of sperm problems can be due to erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, or performance pressure. To combat this, it is advisable that one seeks counseling and therapy.

Conclusion

Low sperm count is a common medical condition amongst men, which is not a cause of worry. Many options are available that can help treat and prevent the problem. Even if the problem is not entirely fixed, several other options can be used if one wants to conceive.