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Oligospermia: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

When a person’s sperm count is below the standard set by the World Health Organization (WHO) for healthy sperm counts—15 million sperm per milliliter of semen—this condition is referred to as oligospermia or oligozoospermia. Oligospermia, which is characterised by a low sperm count, can affect your ability to conceive naturally.

What are the causes of Oligospermia?

It’s normal for your sperm count to change over the course of your life, especially as you become older. However, a person’s risk of oligospermia can also be increased by health issues and lifestyle choices.

  • Varicocele: Varicocele, or enlarged veins in the scrotum, can reduce testosterone production, impair spermatogenesis that is sperm production, and cause oxidative stress, all of which can have a detrimental effect on sperm count. Nearly 15% of males have a varicocele, making it a rather prevalent condition. Since the symptoms of varicocele are normally modest, it often goes unrecognised during adolescence.
  • Exposure to heat: Heat exposure has the potential to generate oxidative stress and impairment of sperm production, which has been demonstrated to have an adverse effect on semen parameters. A drop in sperm count, motility, and viability is linked to heat stress, which can be caused by sitting for lengthy amounts of time each day, using saunas or hot baths, positioning computers or other heat-producing gadgets close to your genitals, or dressing tightly.
  • Exposure to toxins and radiation: The quantity of sperm can be significantly impacted by radiation exposure as well as by contact with chemicals, metals, pesticides, and petrochemicals. You may have a higher chance of acquiring low sperm count if you work in the military, agriculture, pesticides, plastic manufacturing, tobacco processing, or welding industries, among others.It has been established that individuals who work in these type of  high-risk workplaces not only have lower sperm counts but the quality of the and sperm is also affected.
  • Hormone imbalance: Numerous hormones, including testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone, are responsible for male fertility. These hormones, along with a few others, are crucial for the development of sperm. Your sperm count along with other sperm health parameters may alter if any of these hormones are out of balance.
  • Smoking, Drugs and Alcohol use: It has been found in various studies that smoking not only reduces the number,motility and morphology of the sperm but also has adverse effects on DNA material of sperm. The use of various drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana, may lower sperm counts. Drinking too much also has the same effect.

What are the signs and symptoms of oligospermia?

The main sign or symptom of oligospermia is the inability to conceive a baby with a partner after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse.

How does oligospermia affect fertility?

Some oligospermic men can still conceive even though their sperm counts are low. However, fertilisation might be more challenging. It can take more tries than it would for couples without a  fertility issue.

Men are more likely to experience various fertility problems as a result of some of the most typical oligospermia causes. This involves issues with sperm motility. 

Sperm motility describes how active the sperms are. Active sperms can easily swim in the direction of an egg. However, sperms may not travel sufficiently to reach an egg if they have abnormal motility.

How is oligospermia diagnosed?

Analysing the semen is the main diagnostic procedure for oligospermia. A lab technician does a semen analysis by examining a sample of semen under a microscope to count and evaluate the sperm. A condition like oligospermia or azoospermia is normally diagnosed by two consecutive abnormal semen analyses.

Most of the time, a person with oligospermia won’t be aware of it until they start trying to conceive and have trouble.

How to treat oligospermia?

Depending on your situation, several oligospermia treatment options may be used:

  • You may require surgery to close off enlarged veins in order to redirect blood flow to the testicles if a varicocele is the cause of your oligospermia.
  • You could need correction of hormones if a hormone imbalance is the cause of your oligospermia in order to increase sperm production and restore a healthy balance.
  • You might require a course of treatment if you have a virus or bacterial infection in order to get rid of the infection and inflammation. The treatment may not help the sperm count improve depending on how far advanced the infection is, but it can stop further declines in sperm count.
  • Your sperm counts might increase with weight loss and appropriate weight maintenance. Additionally, it might lower your risk for a variety of other illnesses. Stop smoking, using tobacco, alcohol, and other substances to increase sperm production and to stop further damage to sperms.

How to conceive with oligospermia?

There are various treatment modalities available for conception. However, the final line of treatment is decided after evaluating the couple. 

  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): In this fertility procedure, sperm is washed (processed) and then put right into the patient’s uterus. IUI can increase the likelihood of pregnancy for people with mild to moderate oligospermia, according to studies. IUI is an excellent first-line treatment choice before attempting more invasive or expensive techniques like IVF and ICSI because it is one of the least invasive and least expensive assisted reproductive therapies.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): For the purpose of encouraging fertilisation outside of the body, this process requires extracting oocytes from the ovary and combining them with sperm. The embryos are grown in the lab for three to five days.Then the embryo/ embryos are transferred into the uterine cavity. IVF success rates can vary based on the age of the female partner, quality of embryo etc.  
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI): In this form of treatment, single sperm is injected in an egg for fertilization and placed in an incubator. Then, like IVF the embryos are grown in the lab for three to five days and then transferred into the uterus . According to one study, the pregnancy rate for individuals with oligospermia is 36.4%. ICSI can be a promising assisted reproductive method for persons who have low sperm count as a result of an obstruction (such as those with obstructive azoospermia).