What is Oligospermia?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

With each ejaculation, a man releases literally millions of sperm. These are microscopic cells, not easy to see or count without the proper equipment. What is astounding is that the release of so much sperm doesn’t always cause pregnancy, even in an ovulating female. It takes tens of millions of cells to achieve this some of the time, and a slight reduction in sperm amount, a condition called oligospermia or low sperm count, can greatly reduce fertility.

Smoking cigarettes can create oligospermia.
Smoking cigarettes can create oligospermia.

Since oligospermia tends to have no effect on sexual function, men may not know they have this unless they are having trouble conceiving with a partner. After several months of trying, both men and women may get checked to determine fertility barriers, and one check for men is to determine average sperm amount in a milliliter of semen. This is collection is done by asking a man to collect semen in a cup. The semen is then analyzed for sperm amount and sperm qualities.

Low sperm count is referred to as oligospermia.
Low sperm count is referred to as oligospermia.

While sperm per milliliter of semen can range, it’s usually at least 20 million and sometimes five times that amount. Should sperm count be much lower, about 10 million or less, a diagnosis of oligospermia might be made. The next step is determining cause of the problem because, in some cases, eliminating the cause could increase the count to normal levels.

Sometimes there are structural problems with the reproductive system that continue to result in oligospermia, which might be addressed. Men who have low sperm count may also be responding to environmental factors. Most drug use, cigarette smoking, and excess weight can create oligospermia. When men have had exposure to things like radiation or environmental toxins, they may or may not be able to increase sperm count by decreasing exposure. Certain genetic diseases can also be at play.

When at all possible, changes to behavior are encouraged. Sometimes even staying out of very hot water may increase sperm count. As for other behavior changes, it should be stated that smoking and/or doing drugs on the verge of becoming a parent is generally thought unwise. These behaviors should be avoided, even when low sperm count is not present.

Doctors may also be able to address the issue of oligospermia in other ways. Occasionally, surgery can fix a problem with the reproductive tract. This is not always the case.

If oligospermia is not repairable, there are still fertility options available. Artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization could be used to achieve pregnancy. Sometimes using a sperm donor is necessary instead.

One thing to take note of is that oligospermia isn’t always permanent. A male with this condition should not automatically consider himself infertile. All care should still be taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the future, no matter how likely or unlikely they might seem.

Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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