Top Signs of Unhealthy Sperm and What to Do Next

5 min
Updated Oct 30th, 2023

Table of contents

Couples trying for a baby should be thinking about sperm health as well as egg quality. Sperm which are low in number or poor in quality can lead to difficulties in conceiving. If you do conceive, then the chances of miscarriage are higher when sperm quality is poor. According to Tommy’s, the leading UK charity on miscarriage, “current research suggests that the presence of DNA damage in sperm can more than double the risk of miscarriage.” With this in mind, you might be wondering what is meant by unhealthy or damaged sperm and what you may be able to do about it. 

Different types of unhealthy sperm 

Sperm count (oligozoospermia)

The NHS define a low sperm count as where a man has fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen. Having a low sperm count makes it more difficult to conceive naturally, although successful pregnancies can still occur.

Sperm motility (asthenozoospermia)

Sperm motility refers to the movement and the ability of sperm to ‘swim’ in a forward progressive manner. Suffering from poor sperm motility can make it difficult to conceive as sperm have to travel through the reproductive tract in order to reach and fertilise an egg.

Sperm morphology

This refers to the size and shape of sperm cells – if sperm have abnormal shaped heads or tails then successful conception becomes difficult. 

DNA fragmentation

This is when the DNA held inside the sperm head is damaged resulting in it becoming difficult to conceive. There is evidence which shows that the likelihood of miscarriage is also increased if sperm has damaged DNA.  

Signs your sperm may be unhealthy 

Enlarged or twisted veins in the scrotum

This is called a varicocele. Varicoceles are fairly common, believed to found in 15% of the male population (  Varicolceles can often be felt in the scrotum when standing upright.  It is thought that varicocoeles can cause the temperature in the scrotum and the testicles to increase resulting in oxidative stress and leading to DNA fragmentation.  Suffering from a varicocele does not always affect sperm production but it often does and can cause infertility in men

Discoloured or foul-smelling ejaculate 

If your semen is yellow in colour or there is a foul smell this can be an indication of an infection in your prostate. Infections in the genitals are usually either a urinary tract infection (UTI) or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Many STIs can cause issues with male fertility as they negatively impact sperm production. 

Previous medical issues with your prostate

If you have had a condition located in your genitals which has required medical treatment, you may have problems with your fertility. Cancer treatment often involves radiation or chemotherapy to treat tumours, both of which can have a negative impact on male fertility. 

No semen when ejaculating

This is a condition also known as retrograde ejaculation or a dry orgasm. This is when semen enters the bladder instead of emerging out of the penis after orgasm.  Suffering from retrograde ejaculation is not harmful to your own health but is likely to lead to male fertility problems as very little or no sperm is ejaculated.  Retrograde ejaculation is sometimes occurs following an operatio such as a trans-urethral resection of the prostate gland.

Low sex drive and erectile dysfunction

If your sex drive is lower than normal and you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, this could be a result of a lack of male hormones (androgens) in the body.  If male hormone levels are not at a high enough level, this can negatively impact sperm production. Please note these conditions are also commonly associated with anxiety, stress and depression.  You can learn more about stress and its relationship with male fertility here

What to do next? 

If you are concerned that any of the signs above apply to you, we recommend you book an appointment with your GP to discuss it further.  After your appointment you will be provided with treatment options, or you’ll be referred to an appropriate specialist. 

If a specialist asks you to take a sperm test, we recommend that you also take a DNA fragmentation test. Most standard sperm tests only check for morphology, motility and count, overlooking DNA fragmentation. Sperm DNA fragmentation is closely associated with male infertility impacting the likelihood of conception, whether this is natural or through assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF.  DNA fragmentation is also implicated in pregnancy loss through miscarriage. 

In the meantime, there are a few small changes you can make to your lifestyle which can help to boost the health of your sperm: 

  • Supplement – By providing natural support to your body’s metabolism, Impryl has been proven to improve sperm quality, and live birth outcomes. You can learn more about Impryl here.
  • Cut down on alcohol – excessive drinking can negatively impact sperm production
  • Quit smoking – When you smoke toxins enter your blood stream which can reduce the number and quality of your sperm
  • Maintain a healthy weight – getting to and maintaining a healthy weight is likely to improve your fertility. Keeping your BMI below 25 is beneficial; if you are overweight you are far more likely to have problems with your sperm health.
  • Exercise regularly  – according to a recent study “Men who exercised for 15 or more hours weekly at a moderate to vigorous rate had a 73% higher sperm count than those who exercised less than 5 hours per week. Mild exercise did not affect sperm quality.” Exercise also helps to reduce stress and anxiety which are often closely associated with low sex drive and erectile dysfunction. On top of all of this, regular exercise will help you get to and maintain that healthy BMI which is important for sperm production. 

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