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Everything You Need to Know About Low Sperm Count
Fertility Specialist
2021-04-09

Everything You Need to Know About Low Sperm Count

A common finding in couples not able to conceive naturally when looking to start a family is the male partner having a low sperm count. However, not everyone knows what it means when they are told that they have a low sperm count, or take a home test to read the count for themselves. 

This is why we at GENNET City Fertility have put together a guide on everything you and your partner will need to know about having a low sperm count. This includes signs of it, causes behind the issue, and potential fertility treatments and options for improving sperm count.

Read on to learn more, or contact us today if you would like to go ahead and book a consultation. Our staff will be ready to welcome you with the care and understanding you need.

What is a Low Sperm Count?

A low sperm count, also known as “oligozoospermia” in professional language, is when a patient is noted to have fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen (fluid ejaculated) produced. You may find that some home tests will record that any amount below 20 million is abnormal, but this information is outdated and should only serve as a rough guide. 

A fertility specialist will be able to tell you more if you have taken a home test to look at you or your male partner’s sperm count. They’ll also be able to offer advice, and may suggest other factors which could be causing you problems in your attempts to conceive naturally.

It’s also important to note that having a low sperm count is a common issue for couples looking to get pregnant. According to the NHS, problems with sperm are a factor in around 1 in 3 couples struggling to conceive, so while we understand that the problem may be considered awkward or embarrassing, there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Low Sperm Count Signs and Symptoms

There are several signs which may point towards a low sperm count, though these are more often than not symptoms of an underlying condition or medical issue, which also happens to be causing a low sperm count. These signs (or symptoms) include: 

  • Having a low sex drive
  • Erectile dysfunction (difficulty maintaining an erection)
  • Pain, swelling, or lumps in the testicle area of the body
  • Decreased amounts of facial or body hair, or other signs of a hormone or chromosome abnormality

If you are experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, especially lumps in your testicles, please consult with your doctor or another medical professional as soon as possible. It may be in the best interests of your health to ensure the problem is seen to and taken care of, as the problem has the potential to be more severe than is obvious. By getting any issue checked out right away, you will either be getting the problem sorted out more quickly, or giving yourself the peace of mind you deserve.

Here at GENNET City Fertility, we are more than willing to provide testicular ultrasounds which may uncover the cause of your fertility problems. So, if you do have a lump which is causing you to worry, we can book you in for a consultation with a discreet and understanding expert who will carry out the procedure and talk you through the results. 

Being Diagnosed With a Low Sperm Count

Many of our patients will be diagnosed elsewhere, with many having previously gone to their GP after struggling to conceive. It’s highly recommended that you see your doctor or attend a private clinic to talk about potential issues, as they will be able to help make a full diagnosis. Both you and your partner should be prepared to seek advice, as this will rule out any contributing factors to the problems you are currently experiencing.

Causes of a Low Sperm Count

The way the body produces sperm is a complex process, and it requires healthy function in the testicles, as well as the hypothalamus and pituitary glands (the organs in the brain responsible for hormones that trigger sperm production). Sperm are transported through a delicate system of tubes until they mix with semen and are ejaculated out of the penis. If any of these systems are affected by something else, sperm production can also be affected.

In many cases, a professional can identify problems such as morphology (the shape of the sperm), motility (the way the sperm moves), or function, but they may not always identify the causes of a low sperm count. In some cases, the cause may not be that obvious.

Causes of a low sperm count can be split into different factors: medical causes, health and lifestyle choices, and environmental factors. We have listed each of these separately below.

Medical Causes of a Low Sperm Count

Health issues and former medical treatments which may have an impact on your sperm count include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Chromosome defects
  • Defective tubules that would transport sperm
  • Having antibodies which attack sperm cells
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Infections
  • Medications (speak to your doctor about these for a full list)
  • Prior surgeries
  • Problems with ejaculation
  • Tumors 
  • Undescended testicles during development 
  • Varicocele (a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle)

Health and Lifestyle Choices Which May Cause a Low Sperm Count

Health, lifestyle, and other choices and causes of a low sperm count include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Depression
  • Drug use (particularly anabolic steroid use, which can cause the testicles to shrink, and cocaine and marijuana, which may reduce sperm quality as well as count)
  • Emotional stress
  • Occupation (certain occupations have been linked to a risk of male infertility, including welding and jobs which are associated with prolonged sitting, such as lorry driving, however the effects of these have not been proved and the data involved is inconsistent)
  • Sperm testing issues (testing a sample taken too soon after your last ejaculation, after illness or a stressful event, or that didn’t contain all of the semen ejaculated for the test, i.e. some was spilled)
  • Weight (obesity can often affect fertility, either by directly impacting on the sperm or by causing hormonal changes that can reduce male fertility)

Environmental Factors Which May Cause a Low Sperm Count

There are certain environmental elements which may cause a low sperm count if a person is overexposed to them. These include:

  • Exposure to heavy metals (such as lead)
  • Industrial chemicals (such as herbicides or pesticides)
  • Radiation or X-rays (work related or treatment for cancer)
  • Overheating the testicles (for example, the effects of frequently using saunas or hot tubs)

Fertility Treatment Options for a Low Sperm Count

While it may worry you to have a low sperm count, you may also be relieved to know that there are a number of fertility treatment options which may still allow you and your partner to conceive a child. Some of these may increase sperm count naturally and could improve your chances of conceiving without assistance, while others involve medical assistance that help the process along.

Keep Trying

It is absolutely possible for you to conceive naturally and for a healthy pregnancy to occur when the male partner has a low sperm count. However, it may take longer for these couples than for others.

The first thing a doctor may recommend if you have a low sperm count is trying for a baby for a little while longer. As many couples succeed at conceiving within 2 years of trying, it may be in your best interests. You can increase your chances of succeeding (and may even improve your sperm count) by:

  • Exercising regularly and staying in shape
  • Having sex every 2-3 days
  • Keeping a healthy, balanced diet
  • Moderating alcohol consumption
  • Stopping smoking

IVF 

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) may be an option if you have a low sperm count, as the egg will be removed from your partner’s or a donor’s ovaries and fertilised with your sperm in our lab. The fertilised egg will then be returned to your partner’s or a surrogate’s womb to grow.

ICSI

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is an IVF technique which may also be considered and offered to you. In this process, a single sperm will be injected directly into the egg to fertilise it, before being transferred back to your partner’s or a surrogate’s womb. 

This treatment is more likely to be offered to you if you have few or no sperm in your semen, or poor quality sperm.

Donor Insemination

This process will involve using donated sperm. You may wish to consider using this as an alternative to ICSI.

Gonadotropin Medicine

If you have very low levels of gonadotropin hormones (which stimulate the production of sperm), some hospitals and private clinics may offer you treatment with gonadotropin medicines to improve fertility.

What If You Don’t Have a Low Sperm Count?

If it’s discovered that you don’t have a low sperm count but you and your partner are still having trouble conceiving, then there may be other assessments to consider in order to find the issue. A semen analysis conducted by a specialist, for example, will be able to detect if there are any issues with morphology or motility that may not otherwise be apparent. 

To learn more about this, or to book a Male Fertility Assessment which will cover a semen analysis and may uncover problem factors such as issues with motility and morphology, please see our page.

Contact Us to Book Your Consultation

If you and your partner are ready to move forward in your journey to parenthood but you know you need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to contact our London clinic. We will be more than happy to set up a consultation with one of our fertility specialists, and they will be able to talk you through the fertility treatment options and procedures that may help you to start your much longed-for family.

Whether you have a low sperm count, or another issue has presented itself and needs treatment to be put right, we will guide you to the solution that could soon see you bringing a new life into the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a Low Sperm Count Cause Chemical Pregnancy?

While the risk of miscarriage isn’t specifically related to having a low sperm count, it has been discovered that poor sperm quality often be a factor. According to Dr. Gavin Sacks of IVF Australia, this issue will affect roughly 6% of couples. However, he also adds that other factors may also have a part in the event.

Can a Cyst Cause a Low Sperm Count?

Certain types of cysts, called spermatoceles, have the potential to lower your sperm count if they are large. However, these cysts are not cancerous and are most often pain-free. Most people won’t need treatment for them, and they can be monitored by medical professionals in order to prevent them from growing too large and needing further treatment.

Is Diet Important for Sperm Count?

Having a healthy, balanced diet is always best, but making adjustments to your diet can also help to improve your sperm count if it was previously low. Having a diet that’s high in fat and animal protein, or that contains a lot of sugar, can often have side effects relating to sperm health.

That is why you should always ensure your diet is balanced, containing the right amount of fruit and vegetables, if you and your partner wish to have the best chances of conceiving naturally

Fertility Specialist