What is Oligospermia (Low Sperm Count)?

Oligospermia, also known as Low sperm count , is a men’s health issue characterized by a low sperm count. This simply means that the semen ejaculate contains fewer sperm than what’s considered normal for fertility.  While a normal, healthy range can vary, generally a sperm count below 16 million sperm per milliliter (ml) of semen falls under the oligospermia category.

Low Sperm Count - Oligospermia

Who can get Oligospermia ?

Oligospermia is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately 1 in 3 couples experiencing infertility. It can affect men of all ages and for various reasons.

How Low sperm count can affect fertility?

For pregnancy to occur, a sufficient number of healthy sperm need to reach and fertilize an egg. A low sperm count reduces the chances of this happening naturally.  The severity of oligospermia can influence how much it affects male fertility.

What are the Types of Oligospermia?

Oligospermia can be categorized based on sperm concentration:

  1. Mild Oligospermia: 10 million to 16 million sperm/ml
  2. Moderate Oligospermia: 5 million to 10 million sperm/ml
  3. Severe Oligospermia: Less than 5 million sperm/ml

Symptoms of Oligospermia

The symptoms of oligospermia may not always be apparent, and the condition is often identified through fertility testing.  Difficulty in conceiving, maybe the only symptom .However, occasionally less body hair or facial hair, maybe associated with oligospermia. 

Causes of Oligospermia

Oligospermia, or low sperm count, can be caused by various factors, and it often involves a combination of several influences:

Environmental Causes

  1. Exposure to Toxins
  2. Radiation Exposure
  3. Lifestyle Factors

Medical and Genetic Causes

  1. Varicocele
  2. Hormonal Imbalances
  3. Genetic Conditions
  4. Undescended Testicles

Health and Lifestyle-Related Causes

  1. Reproductive system infections
  2. History of mumps infection in childhood
  3. Chronic Illnesses
  4. Obesity

Trauma and Medication-Related Causes

  1. Testicular Trauma or Injury
  2. Medication Side Effects
  3. Idiopathic ( without specific reason)

Current science fails to identify the cause of oligospermia in the majority of patients.

Diagnosis of  Oligospermia

  • Medical History: The healthcare provider will inquire about the individual’s medical history, including any past illnesses, surgeries, medications, and lifestyle factors that may contribute to low sperm count.
  • Physical Examination: A physical examination, with a focus on the reproductive organs, may be conducted to identify any abnormalities, such as varicocele or testicular issues.
  • Semen Analysis: Semen analysis is a crucial diagnostic test for oligospermia. A semen sample is collected through masturbation and analyzed in a laboratory to assess various parameters, including sperm count, motility (movement), morphology (shape), and volume. Multiple samples may be required for a more accurate assessment.
  • Hormone Testing: Blood tests may be conducted to measure hormone levels, including testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Hormonal imbalances can contribute to low sperm count.
  • Genetic Testing: Genetic testing may be recommended to identify any underlying genetic factors contributing to oligospermia. Conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome, Y chromosome microdeletions can be detected through genetic testing. Genetic testing is usually suggested in cases of severe oligospermia.
  • Ultrasound Imaging: Ultrasound imaging may be used to examine the reproductive organs, including the testicles and prostate, to identify any structural abnormalities,  varicoceles or blockages.
  • Post-Ejaculation Urinalysis: Post-ejaculation urinalysis may be performed to check for retrograde ejaculation, a condition where semen flows backward into the bladder instead of being expelled through the penis during ejaculation.

  • Additional Imaging Studies: In some cases, additional imaging studies, such as a scrotal Doppler ultrasound, may be conducted to assess blood flow to the testicles and identify varicocele or other vascular issues.

Treatment of Oligospermia

The treatment of oligospermia, or low sperm count, depends on the underlying cause and the specific circumstances of the individual. Treatment options may vary and a fertility specialist will tailor the approach based on the diagnosis.

Addressing Underlying Causes:

  • Varicocele Repair: If a varicocele is identified as the cause, surgical repair (varicocelectomy) may improve sperm production and quality. Surgical correction is recommended only in cases of clinically palpable varicoceles.( sonography grade 3 or 4)


  • Hormone Therapy: Correcting hormonal imbalances with medications can sometimes improve sperm production.

Lifestyle Modifications:

  • Healthy Diet and Exercise: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, can positively impact overall health and potentially improve sperm count.


  • Avoiding Environmental Toxins: Minimizing exposure to environmental toxins, such as avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol intake, and reducing exposure to pollutants, may help improve sperm quality.


  • Clomiphene Citrate: This medication may be prescribed to stimulate the production of hormones that, in turn, enhance sperm production.


  • Antioxidant Supplements: Antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium may be recommended to reduce oxidative stress and improve sperm function.

Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART):

  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): In IUI, sperm is processed and placed directly into the woman’s uterus during ovulation to increase the chances of fertilization.


  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): In IVF, sperm and eggs are combined outside the body, and the resulting embryos are implanted into the uterus.

Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI):

  • ICSI involves the injection of a single sperm directly into an egg, which is then implanted into the uterus. This technique is particularly useful when sperm quantity or quality is very low.

Donor Sperm:

  • In cases where severe oligospermia or azoospermia (no sperm in the ejaculate) is present, using donor sperm for assisted reproduction may be an option. However with modern techniques like IVF need for donor sperm is very less.

How to prevent Oligospermia?

While some causes of oligospermia may be beyond individual control, there are certain lifestyle choices and practices that may contribute to maintaining healthy sperm production. Here are some preventive measures that may help reduce the risk of oligospermia:

  1. Balanced Diet
  2. Regular Exercise
  3. Limit Exposure to Toxins
  4. Limit Alcohol and Tobacco Use
  5. Avoid Illicit Drugs
  6. Practice Safe Sex
  7. Seek Prompt Treatment for Infections
  8. Routine Health Screenings
  9. Manage Stress


The duration varies based on the cause and response to treatment. Lifestyle changes or addressing underlying factors can improve sperm count, but for most it may be a chronic condition. As most cases are idiopathic ( without specific reason) chances of improvement remain low. However becoming a father is relatively easily possible with IUI or IVF.

Oligospermia can have varying degrees of seriousness depending on the severity and underlying causes. Mild cases may not significantly impact fertility, while severe oligospermia may pose challenges for conception and may require genetic evaluation.

Oligospermia may or may not be permanent, depending on its underlying causes. Temporary factors such as illness, medication, or lifestyle choices can contribute to low sperm count. In some cases, addressing these factors can improve sperm count. However, certain medical conditions or genetic factors may lead to permanent oligospermia.

While oligospermia can reduce fertility, it does not necessarily preclude pregnancy. The ability to conceive depends on various factors, including the severity of oligospermia, the quality of sperm, and the fertility of the female partner. In some cases, assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) may be recommended to enhance the chances of conception.

Yes, in vitro fertilization (IVF) can be a viable option for couples facing oligospermia. During IVF, sperm retrieved from the male partner, even in extremely low quantities, can be used to fertilize the female partner’s egg in a laboratory setting. This procedure bypasses potential barriers related to sperm count or motility, offering a pathway to conception for couples experiencing infertility due to oligospermia.

Oligospermia is a relatively common condition affecting male fertility. Studies suggest that it accounts for a significant proportion of male infertility cases. The prevalence of oligospermia varies depending on factors such as age, geographical location, and lifestyle. While it can occur in men of any age, advancing age and certain health conditions may increase the risk of developing oligospermia.

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