Infertility is the condition whereby a man and woman are unable to conceive naturally. In the US infertility affects 13% of couples with one third attributed to male factor infertility. Without the intervention of a fertility specialist, there is a very low likelihood of conception.
Male factor infertility means a man is unable to impregnate his female partner. There are a few ways male infertility presents. A man may not be able to have an erection or ejaculate. Without ejaculating no sperm reaches the egg and fertilization can’t occur. Another reason for male infertility? Inadequate sperm. If the man can’t produce healthy and viable sperm, it’s nearly impossible to conceive.
Often the issue of male factor infertility stems from sperm count. While it’s true it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, it is a long and arduous journey for these little swimmers and many don’t go the distance. The more sperm, the better the odds of fertilization and conception.
What Causes a Low Sperm Count?
Men produce sperm every day in their testicles, and it takes about 2 months for that sperm to mature. During ejaculation a healthy male releases anywhere from 15 million to over 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Men diagnosed with a low sperm count, oligospermia, produce fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter. Don’t confuse a low sperm count with the total absence of sperm, a condition known as azoospermia. Low sperm means you are still producing sperm.
A number of different factors impact sperm production. Smoking, alcohol use, recreational drugs, medications, stress, toxins and even too much time in a hot-tub can all cause a dip in the number of sperm you produce. In addition to medication and lifestyle factors, there are medical causes for this type of male factor infertility.
A low sperm count means your sperm are unlikely to fertilize your partner’s egg. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for you and your partner to conceive a baby. There are some interventions that help your sperm fertilize your partner’s egg.
Symptoms Of a Low Sperm Count
Most men are unaware they have a low sperm count until they and their partner are unable to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse. A man may have inherited a chromosomal abnormality, suffer from a hormone imbalance, a blockage or a testicular vein dilation issue. Some low sperm count signs to look for:
- Pain or swelling of the testicles
- A lump in the testicles or the area around the testicles
- A decrease in facial or body hair (hormonal imbalance or chromosome disorder)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low sex drive
- Difficulty ejaculating
If you exhibit any of the above symptoms, or if you’ve been actively trying to conceive with no luck, schedule a doctor visit and get tested so, together, you can get the answers you need.
Treatment for Low Sperm Count
Basic biology tells us the way to conception depends on healthy sperm and healthy egg coming together, so fertilization occurs. If this doesn’t happen naturally then assisted reproductive technology is there to help. Depending on the cause for this form of male factor infertility, treatment can be:
- Hormonal Treatment: In some patients, low levels of the pituitary hormones that stimulate sperm production cause a low sperm count. Treatment is similar to treating female hormone imbalance. Specific injectable hormones may increase sperm count enough so conception occurs naturally.
- Antibiotics: In a small number of cases an infection interferes with sperm production and causes inflammation or scarring preventing the sperm from moving toward their goal. If there is no permanent damage, then the antibiotic treatment can help. If scarring and damage is too pronounced the doctor may retrieve the sperm surgically.
- Surgical Treatment: If the cause of your low sperm count is a blockage your physician may recommend surgery to remove the blockage. Surgery is also sometimes used to retrieve sperm in a procedure called Microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration, or MESA, or testicular sperm extraction (TESE). These procedures involve inserting a small needle directly into testicle (under anesthesia!) and obtaining sperm for IVF with ICSI.
- IVF with ICSI: IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection or ICSI is by far one of the most successful treatments for low sperm count. IVF involves harvesting eggs from the female partner and processing them in the lab. The lab oversees fertilization using the male partners sperm and when the healthy embryo develops the doctor transfers it to the woman’s uterus. ICSI helps when the male has a low sperm count. The procedure takes the strongest and healthiest sperm and insects a single sperm directly into the egg for fertilization. By far the most successful treatment IVF with ICSI.
If you and your partner are actively trying to conceive without success, it’s time to find out what’s wrong. Contact LA IVF for more information on male factor infertility and the treatments that help.