You may not know you have a low sperm count (also called oligospermia) until you’re trying to have a baby and aren’t succeeding. Tests may show that you have fewer than the typical number of sperm. There are treatments for many causes of low sperm count.
Oligospermia is a term that means you have a low sperm count. One medical definition is that you have fewer than 15 million sperm in 1 milliliter of semen. A typical sperm count is more than 15 million sperm per 1 milliliter of semen.
Besides being known as low sperm count, oligospermia is also called oligozoospermia. A severely low sperm count (fewer than 5 million sperm in 1 milliliter of semen) is also known as severe oligospermia.
Oligospermia means that you do have a measurable amount of sperm in your semen, but the numbers are lower than the typical numbers. If you have azoospermia, it means there no sperm seen in your semen.
Having a low sperm count is a significant factor in infertility. You may be infertile if you’ve been trying to get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) for a year and haven’t yet done so. This means that for at least a year you’ve been having regular sex without using birth control methods.
Researchers aren’t sure how many people have oligospermia. The condition isn’t usually diagnosed unless a couple is trying to conceive and can’t. There are an estimated 180 million couples throughout the world who are dealing with infertility.
Infertility among people who have been assigned male at birth contributes to about half of the infertility issues overall. (Healthcare providers may call this male infertility or male-factor infertility.) This figure of about 50% includes situations where male factor infertility is the only factor and those more common situations where there are fertility factors in both partners.
The main sign or symptom of a low sperm count is the inability to conceive a baby with a partner after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse.
There are a variety of things that could cause you to experience oligospermia or other sperm disorders. The list of causes include:
Some of the diseases that can cause a low sperm count include:
Toxins aren’t good for any part of your body, including sperm count. Some of the toxins that are present in the environment include heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury.
Your testicles work best at a particular temperature, which is slightly lower than your body temperature. Heat-related situations that affect sperm production include:
Both prescribed medications and non-prescription substances can make your sperm count low. There are many categories of medications that can be involved. Some of these medications include:
There are many other medications that may affect sperm counts. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you think your medication may be causing problems. Don’t stop taking prescribed medications on your own without discussing with your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider will take a medical history and do a physical examination. They may order other tests, including:
Your provider’s treatment suggestions will depend on the cause of the oligospermia. You may increase your sperm count by stopping medications or behaviors that are contributing to low sperm levels.
Other causes may need other treatments. For instance:
There are cases when you won’t be able to increase your sperm count. If you’re trying to conceive, your provider might suggest other ways to assist in reproduction.
If you have a low sperm count, there are certain things your healthcare provider may suggest that you do. These may include lifestyle changes, such as:
You may have heard about vitamin or mineral or herbal supplements that may help. Consult your healthcare provider before trying any of these remedies.
You can help yourself in all ways, including your sperm count, by adopting a healthy lifestyle in terms of sleep, exercise, diet and alcohol use.
How long a low sperm count lasts depends on the cause. You may be able to reverse the condition if the cause is something you can stop, like taking certain medications or keeping your testicles too warm.
You may not be able to change some causes of low sperm count, such as one that happens as a result of genetic issues.
Oligospermia isn’t a fatal condition and isn’t likely to interfere with work or school.
You probably won’t automatically know that you have a low sperm count. It’s not something that you can feel. The first sign is mostly when you can’t conceive when you’re trying. You’ll probably go to a healthcare provider at that time to see why you and your partner aren’t able to conceive. You’ll find out you have oligospermia because you’re tested.
Ask your provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The first sign that you have a low sperm count might come when you and your partner are trying to conceive. You may talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve been deliberately having unprotected sex for a year or even longer. A low sperm count may signal other illnesses, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to be a parent. Talk with your healthcare provider and answer all their questions honestly. Make sure you ask the questions you want to ask and are able to get the answers you need.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/04/2022.
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