Low sperm count
Low sperm count
Low sperm count means that the fluid (semen) you ejaculate during an orgasm contains fewer sperm than normal. Low sperm count is also called oligospermia (ol-ih-go-SPUR-me-uh). Your sperm count is considered lower than normal if you have fewer than 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
A low sperm count decreases the odds that one of your sperm will fertilize your partner's egg, resulting in pregnancy. Nonetheless, many men who have a low sperm count are still able to father a child.
Sperm count may increase if an underlying condition can be identified and treated. Both you and your female partner may need treatment to boost fertility. For some couples, achieving pregnancy requires a procedure such as in vitro fertilization.
The main sign of low sperm count is the inability to conceive a child. Often, there are no other obvious signs or symptoms. In some cases, however, an underlying problem such as an inherited hormonal imbalance or a condition that blocks the passage of sperm may cause signs and symptoms. Low sperm count symptoms may include:
When to see a doctor
Sperm production is complex and requires normal functioning of the testicles (testes) as well as the hypothalamus and pituitary glands — organs in your brain that produce hormones that trigger sperm production. Once sperm are produced in the testicles, delicate tubes transport them until they mix with semen and are ejaculated out of the penis. Problems with any of these systems can affect sperm production. In addition, a number of issues can cause abnormal sperm shape (morphology) or movement (motility). Often the cause of low sperm count isn't ever identified.
Health, lifestyle and other causes
A number of risk factors are linked to low sperm count and other problems that can cause low sperm count. They include:
Infertility caused by low sperm count can be stressful for both you and your partner. Complications can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to a specialist.
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. For low sperm count, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions at any time during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
When you see a doctor because you're having trouble getting your partner pregnant, he or she will try to determine the underlying cause. Even if your doctor thinks low sperm count is the problem, you and your partner may both need tests to rule out other causes of infertility and to look for any underlying health problems. Testing and diagnosis may involve the following.
General physical examination and medical history
To collect a semen sample, your doctor will have you masturbate and ejaculate into a special container. It's also possible to collect sperm for examination during intercourse, using a special condom. Often sperm counts fluctuate from one specimen to the next. In most cases, several semen analysis tests are done over a period of time to ensure accurate results.
One of the most common causes of low sperm count is an incomplete or improper collection of a sperm sample. Most doctors will check two or more semen samples over time to ensure consistency between samples. To ensure accuracy in a collection, your doctor will want to:
Semen analysis results
Your chance of getting your partner pregnant decreases along with decreasing sperm counts:
There are many factors involved in reproduction, and some men with low sperm counts have fathered children. Likewise, some men with normal sperm counts have been unable to father children. The number of sperm in your semen is only one factor. Even if you have enough sperm, you're much more likely to get your partner pregnant if at least half of your sperm have a normal shape (morphology) and show normal forward movement (motility).
Treatments and drugs
Treatments for low sperm count include:
When treatment doesn't work
Lifestyle and home remedies
There are a few steps you can take at home to increase your chances of getting your partner pregnant:
Evidence is still limited on whether — or how much — herbs or supplements might help increase sperm count or overall sperm health. Some, such as zinc, may help only if you have a deficiency.
Supplements that show some promise for improving sperm count or sperm quality include:
Other supplements — including L-arginine and L-carnitine — may help improve sperm quality, but more research is needed.
Talk to your doctor before taking any herbal remedies or supplements, as some can cause harm when taken in high doses (megadoses) and some can cause problems when taken with certain medications.
Coping and support
Coping with infertility can be difficult. It's an issue of the unknown — you can't predict how long it will last or what the outcome will be. Infertility isn't necessarily solved with hard work. The emotional burden on a couple is considerable, and plans for coping can help.
Planning for emotional turmoil
Managing emotional stress during treatment
Many types of male infertility aren't preventable. However, you can avoid some known causes of male infertility:
Last Updated: 2010-06-11
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