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There are five main sperm problems that can affect male fertility. These include oligospermia, azoospermia, klinefelter's syndrome, aspermia, and abnormal morphology. Each problem can be the result of various circumstances and requires different types of treatment.
A normal sperm count is expected to be about 20 millilters (20 cubic centimeters). When the amount of sperm measures as less than this amount, it is known as oligospermia, or low sperm count. This is one of the various sperm problems that can inhibit male fertility. When the sperm count is low, men may not be able to easily impregnate a woman without the help of male hormones or artificial insemination.
Oligospermia, which also results in a low sperm count, is typically caused by environmental pollution, exposure to radiation from x-rays, or high temperatures around the scrotum. It can also be caused by frequent use of alcohol or recreational drugs. Infections may also play a part in causing this type of sperm problem.
Azoospermia is another sperm problem men can face; it occurs when there is no sperm present in the semen at all. Although this is rare, it can be serious and result in a total lack of fertility. This type of sperm problem is separated into two categories: blocked and unblocked. If the sperm is blocked, it may occur because of an infection, previous surgery, or because of cysts. It may also be caused by a congenital defect, in which the vas deferens — the ducts used by the body to send sperm to the urethra — are not present in the body.
Treatment for blocked sperm usually requires surgery or sperm retrieval. If the sperm problems are not caused by blockage, sperm retrieval and assisted reproduction can be used, but only about half of the men who undergo this type of treatment will have usable sperm. Genetic defects, which are responsible for many cases of azoospermia, are usually impossible to treat.
Klinefelter’s syndrome usually also results in a total absence of sperm. In some cases, however, this genetic defect may present a small amount of sperm, but not enough to be considered fertile. This syndrome occurs because of an additional X chromosome. While most men have the chromosomes XY, a man with this kind of sperm problem will have the chromosomes XXY.
Another one the most common sperm problems is aspermia, which means that a man does not produce any semen. This can be caused by what is known as retrograde ejaculation or an ejaculatory duct obstruction. Retrograde ejaculation occurs when a man’s semen is directed out through the bladder instead of the urethra. Ejaculatory duct obstruction is caused by a blockage — such as a cyst or inflammation due to an infection — or problem around the reproductive system. Certain medications may be used to help treat these conditions, and surgical treatments can also be tried.
When sperm have abnormal morphology, they are not shaped the way they should be, which results in their moving differently from normal sperm. When these types of abnormalities occur, they can cause sperm problems relating to fertility because the sperm are not able to successfully swim through a woman’s cervical mucus. This makes it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg and penetrate it for fertilization.