Infertility affects around 15% of American couples who are unable to achieve pregnancy after a year of having unprotected sex. And a third of these fertility issues are due to problems with the male partner’s reproductive system. A semen analysis test is a male fertility test that determines the quality and quantity of sperm and can shed light on issues concerning male infertility. These results can then be used to develop a strategy for assisted reproduction.
Should I Get a Semen Analysis Test?
Infertility can be caused either due to problems with the female or male partner or can be due to a combination of both problems. If you have been unable to achieve pregnancy even after a year of trying, you need medical guidance. While your partner is tested for issues related to her reproductive system, your physician will start with a simple semen analysis test for you.
The most common issue in male fertility is low sperm count. With a semen analysis test, your fertility expert will be able to determine if that is the case and suggest a future course of action.
Another reason you may have been recommended to get a semen analysis is to determine the success of a vasectomy. In vasectomy, the vas deferens, the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles are cut and sealed. Semen testing is usually performed 8 to 16 weeks after surgery to see if the surgery was successful. If sperm cells are observed during the test, it means that the surgery was unsuccessful.
How is a Semen Analysis Test Performed?
Semen is the thick, white liquid that is released by a male during ejaculation. It contains sperm cells suspended in a liquid that nourishes them as well as helps them to swim towards the female egg in an effort to fertilize it.
The sperm cells have a head that contains the genetic material and a tail that allows the sperm to swim.
To be able to fertilize an egg successfully and eventually lead to pregnancy), the semen must contain millions of sperm cells having good morphology and motility. These are the major factors that are assessed during a semen analysis test.
The semen analysis procedure starts with the collection of the semen sample. You’ll be asked to collect your semen sample in a wide-mouthed, sterile container, through masturbation, either in a private room in your physician’s office/clinic or at home. Some physicians may also provide you with a special condom that you can use to collect your semen sample during intercourse.
If you are collecting the sample at home (either through masturbation or through sex), you have to ensure it is kept as close to body temperature as possible and also ensure that it reaches your physician’s lab within an hour.
Because there can be variations in semen samples from the same man, to get accurate results, your physician may ask you for another sample in around two weeks’ time.
Once the sample is in the lab, technicians will perform microscopy and other tests to determine the following-
- Semen volume – The total amount of semen collected during ejaculation is determined.
- pH – The pH (an indicator of whether a solution is acidic, neutral or alkaline) of the semen sample is determined. Normal semen is slightly alkaline (with a pH between 7.2 and 7.4). The acidity of the semen may destroy the sperm cells.
- Liquefaction time – This is the time the semen takes from being a thick viscous substance to a fluid.
- Sperm count – This is a microscopic examination that determines the total number of sperm cells in the sample collected. This can also help calculate sperm concentration which is the number of sperm cells per milliliter of semen.
- Vitality – This is the number of live sperm cells in the sample.
- Motility – This will give an idea of how motile the sperm cells are. They can then be categorized as highly motile, motile, and sluggish. The better the sperm motility, the better their chances of reaching and fertilizing an egg. Health professionals may also determine the percentage of motile sperm cells in the sample.
- Morphology – Sperm cells have a specific structure. Microscopic examination will determine if the sperm morphology is normal or abnormal.
- Abnormalities – Apart from the above, the lab technician may also look at abnormalities like agglutination (clumping of semen) and the presence of other cells that shouldn’t be in the semen (like immature germ cells, or sperm cells that haven’t fully developed, and white blood cells).
Is There Something I Need to Remember Before or While Giving the Sample?
There are a few things you should not do before and while you collect your sample.
- You need to abstain from sexual activity and masturbation for two to seven days prior to the day of sample collection. However, if you avoid ejaculation for more than 10 days prior to the day of sample collection, the sperm sample you provide will likely have weak sperm cells.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before sample collection. It is best to abstain from liquor for around three to five days before the day of sample collection.
- If you are taking any supplements (even herbal), or medication, you need to let your physician know. Some drugs may interfere with sperm production leading to a low sperm count in your sperm analysis test. Supplements that enhance testosterone production can interfere with your body’s natural hormone production leading to low sperm count. Anabolic steroids (those used by bodybuilders), opiates, and marijuana can interfere with your body’s ability to produce testosterone and eventually affect your sperm count.
- While collecting the sample, avoid using any kind of lubricants as it will change the characteristics of the semen.
Apart from these, you can eat and drink normally prior to sample collection.
What if My Results Come Back Abnormal?
Abnormal results are not the end of the road. Your physician will likely order a few more tests to pinpoint the exact problem. Depending on your results, your physician may ask you to get further lab tests like sperm penetration assay, hemizona assay test, or cervical mucus penetration test. These tests will assess your sperm’s ability to swim under near-natural conditions or their ability to fuse with an egg.
At Dreams Fertility, if indicated, we further test the sperm using sperm DNA fragmentation assay, an advanced test that has been recognized as a valuable tool in the evaluation of male infertility.
Finally, the option of using assisted reproduction technologies is always present. At Dreams Fertility, we assess each case independently and offer customized solutions. We utilize advanced procedures and well-developed protocols like ICSI (intracyotoplasmic sperm injection), with IVF to help you achieve pregnancy.
Should I Get Genetic Testing When I Have a Semen Analysis?
Only if your physician advises you to do so. If the semen analysis test results indicate a problem with sperm production, your physician may ask you to get a few genetic tests done to determine if the reason for the infertility is genetic.
If you are diagnosed with congenital bilateral absence of the vas deferens (CBAVD), a condition in which both vas deferens fail to develop, you may have to get screened for Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Conductance Regulator (CFTR) gene mutations, because it is likely that you may be a carrier for the cystic fibrosis gene (even though you do not have cystic fibrosis).
A karyotyping test will determine if you have an abnormal number of chromosomes. For instance, in a condition called Klinefelter’s Syndrome, a man has an extra sex chromosome – XXY, instead of the normal XY which can cause problems with sperm production.
There is another genetic test to determine that your Y chromosome has all the required components necessary for healthy sperm production.
At Dreams Fertility, we recommend preconception genetic screening, which tests for several common genetic disorders (e.g. cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, sickle cell disease, Tay-Sachs disease, etc.).
Are There Any Remedies to Boost Sperm Quality and Quantity?
One of the major issues in most males having issues with sperm production is the disruption in the healthy production of the male hormone, testosterone. There are many lifestyle choices and easy remedies that can help support the production of normal levels of testosterone.
- getting enough rest,
- exercising regularly,
- quitting smoking,
- avoiding excessive alcohol,
- quitting recreational drugs, and
- using natural supplements like fenugreek, Ashwagandha, Vitamin D, folate, and zinc.
Some prescription medications may temporarily disrupt normal sperm production. You should avoid these medicines when you are actively trying to achieve pregnancy. Our Dreams Fertility experts can go over these medications with you to see if they are a factor in your fertility. Finally, eating right is also key to healthy hormonal balance.
Advances in assisted reproductive technologies like ICSI increased fertilization rates of sperm in eggs and have given hope to those couples with male factor infertility issues. And at Dreams Fertility we help you with comprehensive testing for male as well as female infertility by an experienced staff that conducts advanced testing protocols using state-of-the-art equipment.
After your semen analysis results are received, we discuss them in detail with you and plan a customized treatment strategy for you. Our caring and empathetic team of fertility physicians and support staff work together with you to ensure that your fertility journey is as stress-free, enlightened and seamless experience as possible.
Schedule a consult with a Dreams fertility Physician today and embark on your fertility journey with our compassionate and skilled Dreams team.
Dr. Luis Murrain joined Dreams Fertility in 2021, providing specialty services in Fertility and Reproductive Genetics. With a shared vision that everyone deserves to have the family of their dreams, we are dedicated to helping all of our patients. We believe that families come in all shapes and sizes, and all of them are beautiful. We are proud to have a long history of providing services to all, including gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals and couples on their road to parenthood.