If you are planning to start a family and have been trying to conceive for a long time with no positive results, the reason might be a low sperm count. It can be heartbreaking for a man to discover this issue, as it reduces your chances of fathering a child. However, it is treatable if you seek help at the right time.
More often than not, when a couple finds it difficult to get pregnant, the responsibility for that often falls on women. We have all witnessed incidents where women are seen in a gynecologist's office, trying to understand why they are unable to experience the bliss of motherhood.
If you and your partner have been trying to conceive but are finding it difficult, with every pregnancy test yielding a negative result, rather than getting frustrated, we recommend that you, as a man, visit a doctor and determine whether everything is going well with your sperm or not.
It might be depressing for a man; however, having a low sperm count is quite common among men and not only leads to frustration but even shame. The truth is that male infertility is a global problem, affecting about 4% to 12% of men. It contributes to about 20% to 70% of the cases worldwide.
However, as a man, you should know that you are not alone in facing this sexual health problem. Also, please make a note that when a man experiences problems with his sperm count, it doesn't automatically mean that he won't be able to become a father one day.
To understand more about the reality of low sperm count, we recommend that you keep reading:
What is a low sperm count?
A low sperm count, also known as oligospermia, occurs when the semen that a man ejaculates contains fewer sperm than the normal amount. This can be less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen, while the average is around 75 million sperm per milliliter of semen. It can make conceiving a child much more difficult for a man, but not impossible. Having a low sperm count is quite common among men.
A low sperm count is known as the major cause of male infertility. Let's take a closer look at why a man might deal with a low sperm count while trying to expand his family.
Some of the risk factors for low sperm count can be obesity, being overweight, trauma or surgery in or around the testicles, as well as taking certain drugs. Apart from that, other causes of low sperm count include exposing your testicles to too much heat and having certain medical issues.
However, there can be different reasons for low sperm quality that can be medical, environmental, and due to lifestyle. Let's have a look.
A history of testicular symptoms like back pain, lower leg swelling, or bone pain, injury, or surgeries, as well as genetic conditions like Klinefelter syndrome, may increase your chances of having a low sperm count. Also, cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery may affect hormone and sperm production.
Other possible causes of low sperm count can be:
Swelling in the veins that drain the testicles, called Varicocele, which is one of the most common causes of male infertility.
Previous infections or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can cause blockages, scarring, or other damage to the reproductive system.
Issues with erections or ejaculation (for example, diabetes and spinal injuries may cause Erectile Dysfunction or Retrograde Ejaculation).
Issues with the immune system.
Conditions like Cystic Fibrosis or being a genetic carrier of Cystic Fibrosis may block sperm from entering the semen.
Medical procedures, treatments, or medications for a range of conditions, including some cancer, antifungal, antibiotic, and ulcer drugs.
Previous surgery to the male reproductive system, such as testicular surgery, bladder surgery, surgery for undescended testicles, inguinal hernia repair, or a vasectomy.
Certain environmental factors need to be taken care of, or they can lead to a low sperm count. Overheating of the testicles can lead to lower sperm production. This means avoiding prolonged exposure to hot tubs or placing a laptop on your lap is not recommended.
On the other hand, being exposed to herbicides, pesticides, solvents, and other industrial chemicals or heavy metals can also cause a low sperm count. Exposure to radiation from X-rays or other sources may harm sperm production as well.
Lifestyle choices such as heavy drug and alcohol use, as well as using tobacco or vaping, can lead to low sperm production. Anabolic steroids, usually taken to increase muscle mass, can almost always shrink testicles and decrease sperm production. Marijuana and opioid use are another cause of low sperm count. Other lifestyle activities that can cause a low sperm count are:
Testosterone boosters, vitamins, and pre-workout supplements marketed toward a workout crowd may contain small amounts of anabolic steroids, which can impair sperm production.
Jobs that require long periods of sitting.
Emotional issues, like stress and depression, particularly if they're long-term and severe.
Body weight, particularly if you are obese or overweight, can also affect hormones.
Symptoms of Low Sperm Count
There are no specific symptoms that a man's body shows when they have a low sperm count. Majorly, when a man is trying to have a child, he realizes that he has a low sperm count. As that is when men go through different tests to analyze why they are finding it difficult to have a child. Hence, it is recommended that men go through regular check-ups and figure out the underlying condition before it's too late.
However, if you have an underlying condition, such as a hormone imbalance, chromosomal abnormality, testicular issue, or blockage, you might feel the following symptoms:
Low sex drive.
Swelling or pain in or around the testicles.
Less facial or body hair.
Diagnosis of Low Sperm Count
If you have been having unprotected sex with your partner regularly but have not been able to conceive, you must see a urologist as soon as possible. The urologist will perform a physical exam as well as review your medical history. They will also ask you for a semen analysis to check for motility as well as morphology. Some of the other tests that you might need to undergo are:
Blood tests to check hormones or chromosomes.
Ultrasound to visualize the testicles or prostate.
Biopsy to evaluate sperm production in the case of blockages.
When it comes to treating low sperm count in a man, the treatment depends on the cause of it. You can also opt for the TTC (Trying to Conceive) routine or the fertility diet to increase the chances of conception.
If you are dealing with large varicoceles, blockages, or issues with sperm leaving the body, you can opt for surgery. In other cases, sperm can be directly obtained for assisted reproduction procedures like In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) by surgically retrieving it from the testicle or epididymis.
Low sperm count can be a distressing issue for men, impacting their chances of fatherhood. Thankfully, modern medicine offers various treatments, so there's no need to feel ashamed or guilty about it. If you're dealing with low sperm count, consult a urologist promptly and take steps toward realizing your dream of having a family.
Written by: Deepti Dogra
Edited by: Aniket Joshi