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Low Sperm Count

Low sperm count is medically known as oligozoospermia. It is quite common in men who suffer from male infertility.

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Low sperm count or concentration refers to the number of sperm in a presc of ejaculate (in milliliters/mL). According to WHO (2010), a low sperm count is less than 15 million sperm/mL.

What Does a Low Sperm Count Indicate?

A low sperm count makes it very difficult to conceive naturally. One should remember, low sperm count does not mean the man is infertile. A healthy partner and repeated tries will help one conceive naturally. Lower sperm count actually decreases one’s odds in relation to the sperm fertilizing the partner’s egg, leading to pregnancy.

Levels of Low Sperm Count

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There are different levels of low sperm count. These are explained in the table below:


Concentration of Sperm in Ejaculate (sperm/mL)

Mild Oligospermia 0 million to 20 million
Moderate Oligospermia  5 million to 10 million
Severe Oligospermia 0 to 5 million
Cryptoozospermia 0-    Rare sperm
Azoospermina 0 sperm

Symptoms of Low Sperm Count

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The inability to conceive a baby after trying for over a year is the main sign of oligospermia. Apart from this, there are no other obvious signs or symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms also include:

Causes of Low Sperm Count

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There can be a number of causes for low sperm count. These include hormonal, physical as well as having an abnormal shape or movement of the sperms. In some cases, the exact cause is never identified.

Some of the causes of low sperm count include:

  • Use of drugs, excessive smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Carrying out strenuous activities such as horseback riding, bicycle riding for long periods of time
  • Use of medications such as androgens
  • Defects on the Y chromosome (microdeletions)
  • Having an abnormal set of chromosomes (Klinefelter syndrome)
  • Varicocele, that is, swelling of the veins that drain the testicle
  • Trauma to the testicles
  • Having mumps or malaria infection
  • Suffering from a an hydrocele
  • Vas deferens obstruction
  • Ejaculatory duct obstruction
  • Anti-sperm antibodies that attack normal sperms by mistake
  • Having tumors or cancers of glands related to the reproductive system
  • Undescended testicles
  • Exposure to herbicides, pesticides, painting materials, radiation, X-ray, heavy metals or overheating of the testicle
  • Emotional problems can also affect sperm count

Diagnosis of Low Sperm Count

Patients will low sperm count usually visit the doctor after they fail or have trouble getting their partner pregnant. The doctor may ask both the partners to undergo fertility tests to determine who has a problem. Tests for low sperm count includes semen analysis test. Other tests along with semen analysis test includes:

  • Scrotal ultrasound
  • Hormone testing
  • Post-ejaculation urinalysis
  • Anti-sperm antibody test

Treatment for Low Sperm Count

There are a number of treatment options that help improving sperm concentration as well as solve the infertility issue. These treatments include:

  • Surgical intervention to correct varicocele, hydrocele, vas deferens obstruction, etc.
  • Hormonal treatments and medications to stimulate the production of sperms
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injections (ICSI), to directly inject the sperm into the egg for fertilization

When treatments do no work, one may have to take the help of assisted reproductive technology (ART) for conceiving a baby.

Having a low sperm count does not mean a man can never father a baby. There are chances of making a baby, but one needs to try harder. Only when the sperm count is exceptionally low or zero, one may never be able to father a child natural intercourse. Failing to have a baby after about 6 to 12 months of trying is the main reason, men get themselves tested for low sperm count. If you or your partner are facing similar issues, speak to an expert doctor for more information.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 29, 2015


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