A low sperm count is diagnosed as part of a semen analysis test. Sperm count is generally determined by examining semen under a microscope to see how many sperm appear within squares on a grid pattern. In some cases, a computer might be used to measure sperm count.
New sperm are produced continually in the testicles and take about 42 to 76 days to mature. So, a current semen analysis reflects your environment over the past three months. Any positive changes you've made won't show up for several months.
One of the most common causes of low sperm count is incomplete or improper collection of a sperm sample. Sperm counts also often fluctuate. Because of these factors, most doctors will check two or more semen samples over time to ensure consistency between samples.
How to prepare
A semen analysis is typically performed at the lab, rather than at home because it is important that the sample is evaluated right away otherwise the results may not be accurate. You should not ejaculate for 2 to 7 days prior to your semen analysis as this can affect the results. You should also be sure to catch all of the semen at the time of the test otherwise it may be difficult for your doctor to interpret the results. Avoid using any lubricants, as this can affect the results of the semen analysis.
What you can expect
You will be asked to provide a sample by masturbating and ejaculating into a special container at the lab. Because of religious or cultural beliefs, some men prefer an alternative method of semen collection. In such cases, semen can be collected by using a special condom during intercourse.
To ensure accuracy in a collection:
- Make sure all of your semen makes it into the collection cup or collection condom when you ejaculate
- Abstain from ejaculating for at least two but no longer than 11 days before collecting a sample
- Collect a second sample at least two weeks after the first
- Avoid the use of lubricants because these products can affect sperm motility
- Perform a semen analysis in a lab where they are going to look at the sample immediately (within 30-60 min of giving the sample), otherwise it will affect the results
Normal sperm densities range from 15 million to greater than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. You are considered to have a low sperm count if you have fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter or less than 39 million sperm total per ejaculate.
Your chance of getting your partner pregnant decreases with decreasing sperm counts. Some men have no sperm in their semen at all. This is known as azoospermia (ay-zoh-uh-SPUR-me-uh).
There are many factors involved in reproduction, and the number of sperm in your semen is only one. Some men with low sperm counts successfully father children. Likewise, some men with normal sperm counts are unable to father children. Even if you have enough sperm, other factors are important to achieve a pregnancy, including normal sperm movement (motility).