Low sperm count is also known as oligospermia. It occurs when the semen contains fewer sperm than normal. Based on guidelines by the World Health Organization, low sperm count is when the number is below 15 million per milliliter (mL). As a result, it increases the risk for male infertility.
While pregnancies can still occur, having a low sperm count can make it more difficult. Poor lifestyle choices and certain medical conditions can affect sperm count and quality.
How common is low sperm count?
Male infertility is usually associated with sperm problems, including low sperm count. This, however, is very common. According to an article, 50% of men dealing with infertility identified low sperm count as the primary cause.
In the Philippines, 25% of infertility cases are attributed to male infertility caused by injuries, low sperm count and quality, and genetic defects.
What are the symptoms of low sperm count?
Infertility is the main symptom of oligospermia or low sperm count. However, there are certain underlying conditions which may cause physical changes to occur. The common symptoms of low sperm count are:
Varicoceles are enlarged veins in the scrotum. These affect proper blood flow, thus, making it hard for the sperm to grow and develop.
It is the inability to maintain an erection for sexual intercourse. Blood flow is disrupted, and therefore, cannot reach penile arteries.
Testicular pain and swelling
Pain, swelling, and inflammation around the testicular region is a common symptom of low sperm count.
Reproductive structural problems can block the sperm during ejaculation. For example, tubes that carry the sperm might be damaged due to injury, repeated infections, or developmental defects since birth.
Unusual Symptoms of Low Sperm Count
Low sperm count can also cause symptoms that are more uncommon. These include:
Less facial and body hair
This is usually an indication of a hormonal imbalance. Hormones from the pituitary gland are responsible for the production of sperm in the testicles. It can also be due to chromosomal abnormalities.
Difficulties in sexual functionality
For example, having low sex drive can make it difficult to climax. Moreover, it can also lead to retrograde ejaculation. This occurs when the semen goes back inside the body. The muscles around the bladder do not close during orgasm.
In rare cases, the body releases antibodies that fight off sperm.These antibodies affect sperm activities and function. Antibodies are usually a result of surgery or infection.
When should I see my doctor?
Consult with a doctor if after one year of regular, unprotected sex, you still are not able to conceive. Make an appointment if you have also been experiencing the following:
- Pain, discomfort, swelling, or a lump around the testicles
- Ejaculation or erection difficulties
- A history or testicle, prostate, and other sexual issues, including sexually transmitted infections.
- Previous surgical treatment in the groin, penis, or scrotum
What increases my risk for low sperm count?
There are many risk factors for low sperm count. These can be categorized into three main areas: medical, environmental, and lifestyle.
You increase your risk for low sperm count due to certain health issues and medical treatments. These include the following:
- Genetic defects. Gene mutations or chromosomal conditions affect sperm production. Inherited disorders such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and Down’s syndrome can cause abnormalities in the male reproductive organs.
- Varicoceles decrease the number of sperm. This is because blood flow is disrupted causing veins to swell, thus, draining the testicle.
- Infections can affect sperm health by damaging the reproductive system. Blockages develop which can interfere with sperm production. Sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea or HIV can affect testicular functionality. Other infections that may affect sperm production include inflammation in the epididymis (epididymitis), testicles (orchitis), as well as severe mumps.
- Cancer treatments. Radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery are used to treat tumors. However, these can damage the cells that produce sperm.
- Past surgeries. Certain surgeries can stimulate low sperm count. Surgeries to the male reproductive system include hernia repairs, scrotal or testicular surgeries, abdominal surgeries for rectal cancers, treatment for undescended testicles, and vasectomies.
Overexposure to certain environmental elements increases the chance of having low sperm count, including: