Low sperm count refers to few number of sperm in the semen which decreases a man’s chances of getting his partner pregnant. Low sperm count is medically termed oligospermia and signifies less than 15 million sperm in a milliliter of semen. A condition can also arise in which there is no sperm at all in the semen. This is known as azoospermia.
This article enumerates certain medical and environmental causes of low sperm count which can result in infertility.
Here are some of the medical causes of low sperm count:
- Varicocele : This is the most common reversible cause of male infertility. There is swelling of the veins that drains the testicles which results in an abnormal testicular temperature regulation in the testicles for healthy sperm production.
- Infection : infections like epididymitis, orchitis, and sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and HIV, can interfere with sperm production, sperm health or cause blockage of sperm passage.
- Ejaculation problem : Conditions like diabetes, spinal injuries, surgery of bladder, prostate or urethra, as well as some blood pressure drugs can lead to retrograde ejaculation in which sperm flows backwards into the bladder instead of forward through the urethra during ejaculation.
- Tumors : Any benign or malignant tumor that directly affects the male reproductive organs or glands that secrete reproductive hormones can lead to low sperm count. Surgeries and radiation therapies used in treating these tumors can also affect male fertility.
- Undescended testicles : Sometimes during the development of a male child in the mother’s womb, the testicles fails to descend from where they are initially formed (near the kidneys) into the scrotum. When this happens, sperm production is affected, hence, male infertility.
- Hormonal imbalance : The hypothalamus, pituitary and testes all secrete hormones used for sperm production. Hormonal imbalance can occur if there is any problem with hormone production and this can sometimes be precipitated by problems of the thyroid and adrenal glands, impairing sperm production.
- Sperm transport system defects : Normally, when sperm is produced in the testes, it is transported out through tubules including the epididymis, vas deferens, ejaculatory ducts and urethra. When there is a defect in the tubules of the sperm transport system from trauma, surgery, infection or abnormal development, male infertility can ensue.
- Chromosome defects : Inherited disorders like Klinefelter’s syndrome whereby the male child has 3 chromosomes (2 X-chromosomes and 1 Y-chromosome) instead of just 2 chromosomes (1 X-chromosome and 1 Y-chromosome), Cystic fibrosis, Kallmann’s syndrome and Kartagener’s syndrome can cause low sperm count and male infertility.
- Celiac disease : This is a digestive disorder caused by sensitivity to gluten and has been linked to low sperm count and infertility in males. People with celiac disease are advised to adopt a gluten free diet.
- Medications : Medications like testosterone replacement therapy, cancer medications, ulcer medications, some antibiotics, antifungals and long term anabolic steroid use have all been seen to have some effects on low sperm count.
- Prior surgeries : When a man has had previous surgeries such as vasectomy, inguinal hernia repair, scrotal and testicular surgeries, they can affect sperm production or transportation.
There are certain lifestyle choices that can increase a man’s risk of developing low sperm count. Drug use of anabolic steroids can shrink the testicles ,whiles cocaine and marijuana can reduce the number of quality sperms. Alcohol use and tobacco smoking can reduce testosterone levels which can cause low sperm count. Even trauma to the testicles can affect sperm production if there is serious damage.
Other lifestyle risk factors for low sperm count include emotional stress and obesity, both of which can interfere with the hormone for sperm production. Overheating of the testicles through wearing of tight underpants or clothes, working on laptops on your laps, excessive use of hot tubs, and sitting for long periods also affect sperm production.
Environmental factors can also play a role in causing low sperm count and male infertility. Industrial chemicals like benzenes, toluene, xylene, herbicides, pesticides, organic solvents, and painting chemicals can be harmful to male reproductive health and interfere with healthy sperm production. Heavy metals like lead and radiation or x-rays could also give rise to low sperm count.