In around half of the cases where a couple experiences infertility, the infertility is caused by a problem with the male. The biggest cause of male infertility is a low sperm count.
Normal” sperm count, as defined by the World Health Organization, is characterized by:
– The concentration of spermatozoa should be at least 20 million per ml.
– The total volume of semen should be at least 2ml.
– The total number of spermatozoa in the ejaculate should be at least 40 million.
– At least 75 per cent of the spermatozoa should be alive (it is normal for up to 25 per cent to be dead).
– At least 30 per cent of the spermatozoa should be of normal shape and form.
– At least 25 per cent of the spermatozoa should be swimming with rapid forward movement.
– At least 50 per cent of the spermatozoa should be swimming forward, even if only sluggishly.
These numbers amount to averages; Having a sperm count below these numbers does not guarantee that a man will be unable to father a child; likewise, having a sperm count higher than these numbers does not guarantee that a man will be able to father a child.
Low sperm count is determined through a semen analysis. This process is fairly simple. First, a semen sample is obtained from the male. This sample may be obtained through masturbation into a sterile container, or it may be obtained through sexual intercourse using a special condom provided by your health care provider. Regardless of how it is obtained, it must be analyzed within about 2 hours for the results to be reliable. The semen is then analyzed for the following characteristics:
– Volume. Normal volume ranges from 1.5 to 5.0 milliliters per ejaculation.
– Sperm count. Sperm count varies from 20 million to 150 million sperm per milliliter.
– Size, shape and movement. 60% of the sperm should be of normal size and shape, and show normal movement forward.
If the sperm count is very low or very high there is a likelihood of being less fertile. The percent of normal sperm has an effect on infertility. The acidity of the semen and the presence of white blood cells (suggesting infection) may influence fertility.
There are a variety of factors that can cause low sperm count, including stress, genetic causes, nutritional deficiencies, the use of prescription or illicit drugs, obesity, varicoceles, infections, and smoking.
Newer reproductive techniques, such as artificial insemination, may help couples in which the man has a low sperm count to become pregnant. Changes in diet and nutrition, as well as vitamins and natural supplements, may help sperm count as well.