If you have been trying for a baby but have found it’s taking longer than expected, it may be due to a number of reasons – but low sperm count and poor sperm motility (movability) are common causes of male infertility. Nearly one in six men suffers with this condition.
A low sperm count means that when a man ejaculates, the fluid (semen) contains fewer sperm than normal. A normal amount is 15 million sperm or more, per milliliter of semen. Sperm motility refers to how efficiently the sperm are able to swim and travel; this is crucial for male fertility, because if the sperm are unable to swim effectively, they may not be able to make the long journey through the woman’s reproductive tract to reach and fertilize her egg.
The condition can be frustrating and distressing and can put significant stress on a relationship. Having a low sperm count or problems with sperm motility can significantly decrease the chances of conceiving, but the good news is that many men who have this condition can still father a child naturally or with the help of fertility treatments.
Why Would a Man Have Infertility Issues?
Sperm production is a complex process, and sperm count and motility can be affected by many different causes including lifestyle, genetic, and medical factors.
Smoking: There are strong links between smoking and male infertility. The reasons for this are still not entirely clear, but it is believed that tar and the chemical ingredients in cigarettes can negatively impact the sperm. Studies have shown that smoking can reduce sperm count by 23% and sperm motility by 13%.
Alcohol: Drinking alcohol, especially regularly and excessively, can significantly lower a man’s testosterone levels. This can affect the quality of the sperm and can cause decreased sperm production.
Stress: If a man has prolonged or severe bouts of emotional stress, it can interfere with the hormones needed to produce sperm. This, in turn, can lead to problems with fertility and conceiving.
Obesity: A healthy diet and getting the right amount of vitamins and nutrients is very important for your overall health, including fertility. Obesity can therefore have a direct impact on sperm and can cause hormonal changes that reduce male fertility. Eating fewer fatty foods and adding more activity to your day can help to improve the quality of sperm.
Drug use: Using recreational drugs, including marijuana and cocaine, can reduce sperm count and the quality of sperm. Anabolic steroids (synthetic testosterone) can cause the testicles to shrink and cause a reduction in sperm production.
Overheating of testicles: If a man’s testicles are exposed to too much heat, it can impair and reduce sperm production and function. This can be as a result of saunas, hot tubs, heat from a laptop, from wearing tight underwear, or sitting for long periods of time.
Undescended testicles: This is a condition during fetal development where one or both testicles fail to descend from the abdomen into the scrotum properly, which can lead to decreased fertility.
Varicocele: This is a medical condition consisting of enlarged veins in the scrotum, which has been associated with low sperm motility.
Hormone imbalance: If there is an imbalance or condition affecting the hormones that are necessary for sperm production, it may lead to impaired sperm production and fertility problems.
Medication: Some medications – including testosterone replacement therapy, chemotherapy, antifungal medications, antibiotics, and ulcer medications – can impair sperm production, decrease male fertility, and cause side effects which can lower sperm motility. Some medications that are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and bladder infections can also directly affect sperm motility.
Infection: Certain infections can impede the overall health of sperm, affect sperm production, and cause scarring that can block the route in which the sperm need to travel. Infections include inflammation of the testicles or the epididymis (the tube at the back of the testicles which stores and carries sperm) and some sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including gonorrhea or HIV. Some infections including syphilis, mumps, and malaria are known to affect the male reproductive system and can lead to permanent testicular damage; but in some situations, sperm can still be recovered and used successfully.
Exposure to radiation or X-rays: This can temporarily reduce sperm production, but it can cause permanent reduction if there have been high doses of radiation.
Treatment for Low Sperm Count or Motility
While male fertility is often directly associated with sperm count, sperm motility is of equal importance. Lifestyle changes may be enough to improve sperm count and motility, but there are also a number of treatment options available which include:
- IUI (intrauterine insemination): This is a form of artificial insemination. The procedure involves collecting and washing sperm in a laboratory setting, and then injecting the healthiest sperm directly into the woman’s uterus.
- IVF (in vitro fertilization): This procedure is carried out in a laboratory setting and involves combining a number of sperm with an egg/eggs outside of the body, thereby allowing a greater chance of fertilization. Once one or more eggs have been successfully fertilized, the resulting embryos are then implanted into the womb to develop naturally. This can result in multiple births from the same pregnancy.
- Sperm donor: If a man cannot produce any effective sperm himself, there are carefully selected sperm donors that can be used if all other treatment options fail.
Urologist in Phoenix, AZ
If you would like to make an appointment to learn more about treatment options for low sperm count and motility, and other fertility issues, contact our team at Ironwood Urology today. Based in Phoenix, our urologist Dr. Desi Avila is specially trained to deal with all issues affecting male fertility. He will work with you to get to the root of the problem and help you choose the treatment option that is right for you.