Oligospermia, very simply put, is low sperm count. As per research by World Health Organization, around 580 mn men in the world suffer from infertility at some point in their lives. Also, the same paper cited by Indian researchers claims that 45% of these men suffer from either oligospermia or azoospermia. So, while one might have heard of low sperm count as an ailment, were you aware that it is this common? Also, owing to the nature of the ailment, it is one of the least spoken about, especially in countries like India wherein sexual education and awareness itself is a concern. Possibly, oligospermia comes to light only when a couple if not able to conceive even after trying for a long period of time. Nonetheless, let us look about the causes and treatment of oligospermia.
What is Oligospermia?
WHO defines the average sperm count as 15mn per millilitre. Anything below this is called as oligospermia:
- 10mn to 15mn is termed as mild oligospermia
- 5mn to 10mn is termed as moderate oligospermia
- <5mn is termed as severe oligospermia
- A complete absence of sperm is known as azoospermia
What are the symptoms for oligospermia?
The most common and the most telling symptom of oligospermia is not being able to conceive a child. Other symptoms include:
- Low sex drive
- Erectile dysfunction (ED)
- Pain or swelling in the testicle areas
- Decreased facial or body hair as a sign of chromosome or hormonal abnormality
What are the causes for oligospermia?
Oligospermia can be caused by a host of issues ranging for psychological and lifestyle to environmental to other medical conditions. Here is a quick glimpse at some of these reasons:ENVIRONMENTAL REASONS:
- Continuous exposure to industrial chemicals like benzene, toluene, certain pesticides and insecticides can lead to a lower sperm count
- Heavy metals like lead can also lead to oligospermia
- Radiations and X rays, if very frequent can result in lowering of the sperm count. In some cases, this effect can be permanent and the sperm count can never be brought back to normal
- Overheating of testicles during saunas or hut tubs if used very frequently can lead to lowering of the sperm count. This can also be a result of a job that requires one to remain seated for a long time or to work in extreme conditions like crane operators or truck drivers.
- Substance abuse like drugs, alcohol or smoking can all lead to reducing the sperm count
- Mental wellbeing can also have a huge impact on the quality of the sperm. If one is under continues emotional stress or depression, the sperm count is bound to get impacted
- Obesity can also lead to lower sperm count, either directly impacting the count or impacting the motility (movement of the sperm)
- Certain occupations that require one to sit for a long time can lead to higher temperatures in the scrotum which is also a cause for lower sperm count
- Varicocele is one the most common reasons for oligospermia or reducing the quality of the sperm. Varicocele means swelling up of the veins that drain the testicle. Other similar concerns (swelling up of the lining or blockages) with the tubes that carry semen can also lead to a lower sperm count.
- Retrograde ejaculation is another ailment that leads to lower sperm count. The semen, instead of getting ejaculated, flows back in to the bladder. This thereby results in a lower sperm count. This particular condition can be caused by diabetes or surgeries related to the prostate, bladder or urethra.
- Certain antibodies that attack the sperm, mistaking them for foreign contaminants can also lead to oligospermia
- Infections of the testicles or sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea can also lead to a poor quality of the sperm
- Another common reason for oligospermia is hormonal imbalance. The hypothalamus, pituitary and testicles produce hormones that are necessary to create sperm. Any imbalance in these can lead to improper sperm production affecting the quality and sperm count.
- A certain disease known as celiac disease which is caused by gluten allergy is also one of the causes for infertility
- One of the defects that can be inherited is known as Klinefelter's syndrome wherein the male is born with two X chromosome and a Y chromosome instead of one each. This can cause abnormalities in the development and functioning of the reproductive organs, one of them being oligospermia.
- Prior surgeries like vasectomy, prostate surgeries and other such procedures or certain medications like ulcer medications, some anti fungal and antibiotic medications or chemotherapy may all lead to impairing the sperm count
What are the treatments for oligospermia?
Since there are a whole host of causes for oligospermia, the treatments available also are a plenty and depend on the cause. Hence it becomes absolutely critical to identify the cause correctly before undergoing any sort of treatment.
- Treating infections
If the primary cause of oligospermia is infections, corrective medication is used to cure the underlying issue. Also, one has to keep in mind that the medicine itself does not aggravate oligospermia since certain antibiotics and antifungal medications are known to cause oligospermia
- Counselling and meditation
If the primary cause of low sperm count and thereby infertility is narrowed down to stress or other condition of the mind, counselling and meditation can go a long way in helping with oligospermia.
- Hormone treatments
If the main reason is identified as hormonal imbalance, the suggested course of action could be hormonal treatments to correct the imbalance and thereby providing a cure for infertility.
In case of varicocele or any blockages, surgery is often the way to go. Surgery could be invasive or non-invasive depending on the blockage and the location / organ for it.
- Reproduction assistance
Since the biggest outcome of oligospermia is not being able to conceive, one might go for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Here, the sperm through normal ejaculation or surgery is inserted into the female genital tract for conceiving. A donor individual may also be involved in the procedure depending on the quality of sperm and the sperm count.
What does Ayurveda say about oligospermia? Are there ayurvedic treatments for oligospermia?
In Ayurveda, oligospermia can be correlated to Shukra Kshaya. While there is no direct mention in the texts of sperm count or motility, there are mentions of the quality of semen.
Ayurveda attributes the loss of quality of semen (shukra dhatu) to the Pitta dosha. Ayurveda and yoga, also lay a lot of emphasis on the quality of the semen or Veerya. In essence, the yogic texts say that a person in healthy (mentally, physically and psychologically) only if the quality of semen is high.
Ayurveda suggests changes to Ahar (foods) and Vihar (lifestyle) in order to improve the quality of the sperm. In addition, the treatment also includes Vajikarana tantra or Aphrodisiac medicine along with rasayanas and vajikara dravyas (help in virilification). There are also therapies under Panchakarma that help in the detoxification of the body leading to improvement in the sperm count.
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