What Low Sperm Count Means (and Why It Matters)

A low sperm count, also known as oligospermia, is when the semen ejaculated during an orgasm contains less sperm than average.

What Causes a Low Sperm Count?

A man’s sperm production is complicated. Several elements are involved. For a man to have healthy sperm, his testicles, hypothalamus, and pituitary glands all need to be functioning normally. In addition, abnormal sperm shape, movement, or function can cause a man to have a low sperm count. Several health challenges, lifestyle choices, and medical treatments can cause a low sperm count. For example:
  • Varicocele – One of the most common and reversible causes of male infertility is swelling in the veins that drain the testicles.
  • Infection – Certain infections may interfere with sperm production or cause scarring, which can block the passage of sperm.
  • Retrograde ejaculation – Issues with ejaculation, such as retrograde ejaculation can occur when semen enters the bladder instead of leaving the body through the tip of the penis.
  • Antibodies – Some men may have anti-sperm antibodies, which are immune system cells that mistakenly attack sperm after identifying them as harmful.
  • Tumors – Tumors and cancers can affect male fertility. Surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy can also have an impact.
  • Hormone imbalances – As we said above, the hypothalamus, pituitary, and testicles produce hormones necessary to create sperm. Any hormonal imbalances can affect sperm production.
  • Other lifestyle impacts – Other lifestyle aspects could lead to a low sperm count, such as drug, alcohol, or tobacco use, emotional stress and depression, and being overweight.

What Is Considered a Normal Sperm Count?

According to Resolve, The National Fertility Association, a normal sperm count ranges from 15 million to over 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. A sperm count between 20 to 40 million sperm per ml is considered lower than average, and doctors may order further tests to investigate. A low sperm count is deemed below 15 million sperm per ml. Even a single sperm can fertilize an egg.

Why Does a Healthy Sperm Count Matter?

A low sperm count may decrease the chances that a sperm will fertilize an egg, resulting in pregnancy. However, many men who have a low sperm count can still conceive a child. Even a single sperm can fertilize an egg.

What Are the Symptoms of a Low Sperm Count?

The main symptom of a low sperm count is the inability to conceive a child. You may not experience any symptoms at all. Certain conditions that cause low sperm count (such as hormonal imbalance, dilated testicular veins, or a condition that blocks the passageway of sperm) may result in symptoms.
Low Sperm Count Symptoms Might Include:
  • Problems with sexual function such as erectile dysfunction (ED) or low sex drive
  • Swelling, pain, or a lump in the testicles
  • Decreased body or facial hair or other symptoms of a chromosome or hormone abnormality

How to Increase a Healthy Sperm Count

In some cases, you can make lifestyle changes to encourage a healthy or normal sperm count. For example:
  • Don’t smoke or engage with recreational drugs
  • Limit or avoid alcohol
  • Talk to a doctor about any medications that can affect sperm count
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid extreme temperatures
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid exposure to toxins, heavy metals, and pesticides

When to See a Doctor

If you’re trying to conceive and you’ve been engaging in a year of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse without a pregnancy, then it may be time to speak to a doctor. Alternatively, if you’re also experiencing any of the symptoms below, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss:
  • Erection, ejaculation problems, or a low sex drive
  • Pain, discomfort, or a lump/swelling in the testicle area
  • A history of testicle, prostate, or sexual health challenges
If you’re concerned about your sperm count or your ability to conceive a child, consider speaking with a men’s health physician. With Opt Health, you can discuss your fertility and complete at-home sperm tests at your convenience. For any questions, inquiries, or appointments, don’t hesitate to contact us. Get personalized support and insight from top-tier physicians that are available 24/7.

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