When you have a low sperm count

A low sperm count or complete absence of sperms is the main reason some men are not able to father a child. We tell you what low sperm count means,

  • PublishedApril 10, 2014

A low sperm count or complete absence of sperms is the main reason some men are not able to father a child. We tell you what low sperm count means, how it can be diagnosed, and what interventions are available.

When the fluid (semen) you ejaculate during an orgasm has fewer sperms than normal then you have a low sperm count, also referred to as oligospermia. A complete absence of sperm is called azoospermia. A sperm count is lower than normal if you have fewer than 15 million sperms per millilitre of semen. This means chances are low that one of your sperms will fertilise an ovary, resulting in pregnancy. Nevertheless, many men who have a low sperm count can still father a child.


The inability to conceive a child is the major indication of a low sperm count. The cause may be an inherited hormonal imbalance or a condition that blocks the passage of sperms. If you have problems with sexual function, for instance, low sex drive or difficulty maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction), pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area, decreased facial or body hair or other signs of a chromosome or hormone abnormality, then chances are you have a low sperm count.


It is advisable to consult a doctor if you haven’t conceived a child after a year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse with your wife or partner, have erection or ejaculation problems, low sex drive or other problems with sexual function, discomfort, a lump or swelling in the testicular area, a history of testicle, prostate or sexual problems or have had groin, testicle, penis or scrotum surgery.


There are several causes of low sperm count both medical or malfunctioning of the testicles (testes), as well as the hypothalamus and pituitary glands – organs in your brain that produce hormones that trigger sperm production.


Is low sperm count preventable?

There are some causes of a low sperm count that can be avoidable, especially those to do with lifestyle. Overheating the testicles is high on the list. For instance, it is very relaxing to get into a sauna or hot tub but truth be told, frequent use of these facilities temporarily lowers your sperm count. You’ll need to reduce your visits to these facilities if you want to father a baby.


Equally damaging but avoidable is sitting for long periods, wearing tight clothing or using a laptop on your lap for long periods of time which increases the temperature in your scrotum and reduces sperm production. Riding a bicycle for long periods or horseback riding, especially on a hard seat or poorly adjusted bicycle, is another possible cause of reduced fertility due to overheating of the testicles.


We know that exposure to radiation or X-ray is linked to cancer but it can also reduce sperm production. The problem here is that it can take several years for sperm production to return to normal. And when exposed to high doses of radiation, sperm production can reduce permanently. The next danger is extended exposure to industrial chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, painting materials and lead.


Your lifestyle can make or break your sperm count. When you decide to stimulate your muscle strength and growth by taking illegal anabolic steroids, your testicles risk shrinking in addition to decreased sperm production. If you are in an occupation that involves extended use of computers or video display monitors, shift work, and work-related stress, your risk of infertility is high.


Equally, the use of drugs like cocaine or marijuana may temporarily reduce the number and quality of your sperm. The beloved bottle has its place too – drinking alcohol can lower testosterone levels and cause decreased sperm production. That cigarette puff you assume gives you status may also lower your sperm count.


Severe or prolonged emotional stress, including stress about fertility itself, may interfere with certain hormones needed to produce sperm. Cut down that weight too. If you let it reach obesity levels, it will cause hormone changes that reduce male fertility.


When treatment doesn’t work
There are a few do-it-yourself tips to increase your chances of getting your partner pregnant.  First, having sexual intercourse every other day around the time of ovulation (in the middle of the menstrual cycle, between periods) increases your chances of getting your wife pregnant. This will ensure that sperms, which can live for several days, are present when conception is possible.


It is advisable to avoid the use of lubricants such as K-Y jelly, lotions, and saliva as they’ve been shown to reduce sperm movement. Ask your doctor about sperm-safe lubricants. If your problem can’t be treated, you and your wife can consider using sperm from a donor or adopting a child.


Alternative medicine…

There is still no substantial evidence to prove that herbs and supplements might help increase sperm count or overall sperm health. Although there is no conclusive information on the benefit of dietary supplementation, certain vitamins, minerals and amino acids may improve the sperm count or sperm quality. These include zinc, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin B-12, folic acid, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Consult your doctor before taking any herbal remedies or supplements, as some can cause harm when taken in high doses or for long periods of time.

Published on April 2013

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