Causes & Symptoms of Low Sperm Count and When You Should See the Doctor
Low sperm count is a condition that affects many men; however, because it is not routinely tested, and typically lacks obvious signs, those affected may not be aware of their sperm’s health. Understandably, most men only begin to think about their sperm count when experiencing difficulty in achieving conception and are concerned about male infertility. And while many men with a low sperm count may still be able to father children, the chances of achieving a successful conception decrease if you have a low sperm count. Not only is conception a concern, but low sperm count can sometimes be a sign of a bigger problem associated with the male reproductive system.
What’s Considered Low Sperm Count
The most recent World Health Organization criteria for low sperm count is 15 million sperm per milliliter, and at this lower than normal level, is referred to as oligozoospermia. When semen analysis shows a complete absence of sperm all together, the condition is called azoospermia.
Symptoms of Low Sperm Count
Signs that may lead you to suspect a low sperm count are not very obvious and because of this, difficulty conceiving is the first thing that suggests a likely problem with sperm quality or quantity. However, some men experience problems with sex drive, sexual function, or their ability to maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction).
When it comes to hormonal regulation, the pituitary gland in the brain is involved and if it gets damaged, whether by injury or a medical issue, you may experience symptoms of tiredness and lack of interest. These symptoms may lead your doctor to measure levels of testosterone and other hormones that naturally decrease with age and lead to sexual symptoms of decreased libido, and possibly, a decreased sperm count. I tell my patients that although you may think something like tiredness or headaches isn’t relevant to the conversation, it’s important to report every symptom when talking with your doctor so we can provide you with the best possible treatment.
Causes of Low Sperm Count
Sperm production is a complex process that requires the work of several organs in the body that can be impacted by lifestyle choices, medical issues and environmental factors. Some medical conditions that may put you at risk of developing low sperm count include:
- Varicocele – One of the most common causes of male infertility is varicocele. Levels of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone, tend to be lower in men who have a varicocele. Not only can lower testosterone negatively affect libido and the ability to maintain an erection, but it can also impact normal sperm production.
- Infections – especially those that affect sperm production or vitality such as inflammation caused by epididymitis or orchitis. STDs can also put you at risk of developing a low sperm count if not well treated.
- Autoimmune Disease – Sometimes the body’s immune system attacks the body. It may wrongly identify the sperm as a foreign body and target it for removal.
- Celiac Disease – If you have a sensitivity to gluten, and have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is possible that this condition may increase the risks of developing a low sperm count, though this is not always the case.
- Cancer – Tumors affecting the testicles or other parts of the male reproductive system can have a direct impact. The treatment of these cancers with chemotherapy and radiation can also lead to blockages, scarring and a reduction in sperm count.
- Prior surgeries –Procedures such as hernia surgery, prostate resection and surgical removal of cancers affecting the testicles, rectum, and prostate may all increase the risk of developing a low sperm count.
Lifestyle and Environmental factors that may increase your risk of developing a low sperm count include:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Exposure to environmental toxins
- Obesity and Weight gain
- Trauma to the testicles
When to See a Doctor
If you and your partner have found it difficult conceiving a child, and have actively tried for a year or longer, it may be time to see a doctor to help identify and address the underlying cause. If you have had erection or ejaculation problems, a low sex drive, or experienced pain, discomfort or swelling in the testicle area you should contact a doctor sooner. If you have experienced pain and discomfort, or notice a lump or swelling in the testicle area it is important to see a doctor immediately.
If you are heading towards fatherhood and are concerned about your fertility, and you’re in the New York area, please contact Dr. Harry Fisch for a consultation.