Low Sperm Count
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration if we say “there would be no life without sperms”. Sperms are the cells which actually start the life cycle of every human. Life starts by the union of healthy sperm and egg. So, it’s quite important that your sperms are healthy and abundant. However, Low Sperm Count is a reality.
However, in some situations, this might not be. Since fertilization is a process of probability, it is always of paramount important that the number of sperms is large enough to maximize the chances. And this is how having a low sperm count becomes a problem. Let’s know about the definition, causes and treatments of this problem that leads to male infertility –a condition when a male is unable to get a fertile female pregnant though widely believed that contribution of male towards infertility is low, but the fact is .its a contributing factor in half of the cases. In 20% of caese , it is the sole factor.
What is low sperm count?
As the name signifies, low sperm count is a condition where the semen you ejaculate contains low number of sperms. “Low” is not a quantifiable term, but it is generally accepted that less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen can be considered as low sperm count.
Low sperm count is also known as oligospermia. Many people also tend to categorize absence of sperm as oligospermia. However, that condition is called azoospermia.
The primary symptom of low sperm count is the failure to conceive a child. Since sperm count offers no other contribution in body functions, there are hardly any other symptoms to diagnose the condition. If you are unable to conceive a child even after trying for months to years, it is possible that you or your partner may have infertility.
However, sometimes other symptoms may be seen. This happens due to the cause behind low sperm count. In some cases where low sperm count is caused due to genetic/hereditary reasons, we may see symptoms like:
- Sexual dysfunctions. These might include erectile dysfunction, low sex drive etc.
- Swelling of the testicle area, associated with pain.
- Reduction in facial or body hair, which is caused due to imbalance in testosterone.
While the symptoms of low sperm count are fairly straightforward, the causes vary considerably. Production of sperm inside the body is a complex process. To ensure healthy production of sperm, the testicles must be functioning correctly, along with the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. Tubes responsible for transmitting sperm with the semen must also function correctly. Here are some of the major causes of low sperm count:
This is a condition where the veins that are responsible for carrying the sperm are swollen. This raises the lump around the testicles due to varicocele resulting in lower quality of sperm. This is one of the most common treatable cause.
Many types of infections (like epididymitis and orchitis) can result in lowering in sperm count, either by interfering with the production of sperm or blocking the transmission of sperm. Sexually transmitted infections can also affect the sperm production. Sometimes, infection can cause permanent reduction in sperm count.
In this condition, the semen seeps inside the bladder instead of getting out via penis. This decreases the amount of semen ejaculated, thereby decreasing the sperm count.
Antibodies present in the immune system may falsely identify sperm as harmful invaders, and try to destroy them.
Cancers and even benign tumors could reduce the sperm count by affecting the glands that produce them. Furthermore, treatments for cancer like chemotherapy and radiation can also reduce the sperm count.
Sometimes, one or both of the testicles fail to descend into the scrotum (usually at birth).
Glands like hypothalamus, pituitary and testicles are responsible for the production of hormones that contribute in creation of sperm. Any imbalance in these hormones would directly influence the sperm count.
Defects in Chromosome
Genetic disorders are one of the major causes behind low sperm count and infertility. In case of males, the presence of two X and one Y (instead of one X and one Y) chromosomes can lead to an abnormal reproductive system. Other genetic disorders like Kallmann’s syndrome and Kartagener’s syndrome are also responsible for low sperm count.
Chemicals and toxins
Environment factors are also one of the major causes of low sperm count today. Heavy exposure to harmful chemicals like benzenes, pesticides, toluene etc. can cause reduction in the sperm count. Consumption of toxins in food or exposure to heavy metals like lead can also cause low sperm count or even infertility.
There are certain habits/elements that contribute significantly in the reduction of sperm count in semen. Some of them are avoidable, while others require a treatment. IT must be noted that while this factors are not direct causes of low sperm count, they are known to increase the chances.
- Alcohol consumption
- Drug abuse
- Medical history of infections
- Fertility disorder since birth
- Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy
- Certain medications
- Surgeries like vasectomy or pelvic surgery
- Exposure to toxic substances
Low Sperm Count Diagnosis
Unlike most other medical conditions, low sperm count could not be diagnosed via symptoms alone. This is because the major symptom (inability to conceive) may be caused by a variety of other conditions.
Semen Analysis is the most widely-accepted test for diagnosing low sperm count. In it, the doctor would ask you to submit a sample of your semen obtained either via masturbation or intercourse. This sample is analyzed under microscope (often with the help of computers) to calculate the sperm appearing per square unit of the sample.
Few things must be kept in mind while taking the semen analysis test. Sperm density varies with each ejaculation; hence multiple samples would be needed to obtain consistent results. It is necessary that you do not masturbate for at least a day before taking the test, and all of the semen ejaculated must be collected for the test.
The normal benchmark for the test i 15 million sperm per milliliter or 39 million sperm in the entire sample. Any lower than that would be categorized as “low sperm count”.
There are other tests one can take to diagnose low sperm count. Some of them are:
- Scrotal ultrasound with dopler uses high frequency waves to take a look at the testicles and identify any varicocele.
- Hormonal tests give an indication of any imbalance in the hormones that are necessary for producing sperm.
- Post-ejaculation urinalysis is used to identify retrograde ejaculation. It identifies whether the sperm is travelling back inside the urinary bladder.
- Certain genetic tests are used to identify any genetic causes behind the low sperm count. It analyses the Y-chromosome to indicate any defects.
- Transcretal ultrasound involves inserting a small wand inside the prostate and identifying any blockages in the tubes that carry semen during ejaculation.
Low Sperm Count Treatments
Low sperm count is not a severe condition by any measure, but it is not always easily treatable. Some of the prevalent treatments are:
Surgery is the quickest way to solve the problem of low sperm count. In cases where there is a blockage in the transmission of sperm or any other difficulty in ejaculation, corrective surgery could solve the problem. Most common surgery is for varicocele done under microscope i.e microsurgical varicocelectomy.
In case of infections, antibiotics work well in getting rid of them. However, curing infections doesn’t always result in increased fertility.
Since hormonal imbalance is a very common cause of low sperm count, there are exclusive treatments available for it. One of them is hormone replacement, which is suitable in cases where the glands have stopped producing the hormones altogether. In case of mere imbalance, medications generally suffice.
Assisted Reproductive Technology
Assisted Reproductive technology such as IUI, IVF anf ICSI are most commonly used in cases when the couple does not want to try treatment for obligospermia and straight away wants to try conceive.
When the other treatments have not shown desirable results.
If conventional treatments are not bringing any positive results, you might want to try alternative medicines. Even though there is no conclusive proof that they might work, it is still worth a shot. Some of the chemicals that have shown positive results in some cases are Alpha-lipoic acid, biotin, folic acid and selenium.
However, there is a certain risk associated with taking these drugs, so always consult your doctor before going on this route.
In some rare cases, when the count is extremely low even assisted reproductive technology is unsuccessful.____________________
Like the wise saying goes, “prevention is better than cure”. While low sperm count is largely curable, it is always better to take measures so as to avoid the situation altogether. This could be done by reducing or avoiding the risk factors that are associated with low sperm count. Some of the steps you could take are:
- Avoiding smoking. Tobacco is harmful in general and can also reduce the sperm quality.
- Avoid or reduce the consumption of alcohol.
- Do not take medicines without prescription. Even the ones you do take must be consulted with a doctor to check for any harmful effects on the sperm.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise. This would prevent obesity, which is one of the causes for low sperm count.
- Try to lead a stress-free life. Stress is one of the major causes of low sperm count and infertility today, apart from dozens of other sexual conditions.
- Eat healthy food with high content of green leafy vegetables and fruits.00000000000
Treatments might work to cure or improve your condition, but there are certain steps you could take to improve the situation yourself. Some of these are:
- Increase the frequency of intercourse. The more time you have sex and ejaculate, the more is your chances to impregnate your partner.
- Have sex according to menstrual cycle. During ovulation, the chances to get pregnant are maximum. Having sex during that time will increase the probability to impregnate, even with low sperm count.
- Avoid lubricants. Certain lubricants contain chemicals that hinder the movement of sperm inside the female’s body. Substances like K-Y jelly, lotions and even saliva must be avoided during intercourse.
Low sperm count is a very common condition that affects the life of millions of men. However, most people refrain from taking professional help due to the embarrassment related to sexual health. It is important to take proper treatment before the situation worsens. Early measures have a near-perfect success rate. Also, few changes in the lifestyle can prevent the condition. We have to provide the best condition for sperm protection in the form medicines/surgery/supplements. Adopt healthy lifestyle and diet. Stay away from toxins for atleast 3-6 months or a year. It is required to improve the quality of sperm and chances o9f conceiving. This is because the positive influence should last atleast 1 spem production cycle 2-3 to 3-4 cycle to get the optimum benefits.