Test for Success: The Semen Analysis
Just as the female’s egg is a “must” for pregnancy, a man’s sperm is essential for human reproduction. For conception to take place, sperm must swim hard, penetrate the egg, and transport genetic material. In this article, we explain what to do when things go wrong with sperm.
What is a semen analysis?
A semen analysis is a basic fertility test for men to determine whether a man needs medical treatment for male fertility issues. If you have been unable to get pregnant for a year or longer (or six months if the woman is over age 35) a semen analysis may be just what you need.
If you need fertility treatments, a semen analysis can help your doctor figure out which treatment is best to boost the chances of a successful pregnancy.
How does a semen analysis work?
Before a man gives a semen sample for analysis, he must avoid ejaculating for 2 to 3 days. If the semen sample is done at home, use a sterile container to catch every bit of the ejaculate. Then, rush the sample to the doctor’s office. The semen analysis must be done within two hours of collection.
If the semen sample is done at the doctor’s office, there will be a very private room to relax you and help you get in the mood.
Sometimes a fertility specialist may ask for the semen analysis to be repeated. The second or third test may be done at a lab, especially if your health plan is covering the semen analysis.
Many prefer using a fertility clinic for the semen analysis, even if it costs more. Most clinics provide men with a private space called a masturbatorium (no kidding!) in which to provide the semen sample. The results are given to trained technicians, and the semen analysis is often more reliable when done this way.
Reading the lab report
The semen analysis lab report will evaluate many factors, including the following:
Volume: Normal volume ranges from 1.5 to 5.0 milliliters (a milliliter is roughly equal to a teaspoon). Low volume may be a sign of an obstruction in the ejaculatory ducts. Retrograde ejaculation in which the semen goes into the bladder instead of out of the body sometimes causes low volume.
Semen content: Researchers are learning more about the human body by understanding the content and makeup of semen. Depending on the findings from the semen content, more blood tests may be performed to check for infections or other problems.
Sperm count: This tells the number of sperm in the semen sample. A normal sperm count may be from 70 to 80 million sperm/mL. Men with a low sperm count may be very fertile if the sperm is “high quality.” Still, having a low sperm count may indicate a problem in the body—giving the doctor a clue that may warrant further testing and treatment.
Sperm motility: Sperm motility is how the sperm swims, wiggles or fights to get through the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the egg. Normal sperm motility is when 50 percent of the sperm are moving. The lab tech will check to see how the sperm move forward, how fast, and if the sperm move in a straight line.
Sperm morphology (shape): Sperm shape can offer clues to healthy development. If the sperm is misshapen, it may indicate the sperm was exposed to chemicals or toxins or has other problems.
The final analysis
Results of the semen analysis can be combined with a man’s medical history, physical examination and other tests, allowing a fertility specialist to make a diagnosis or at least suggest treatment to help increase the chance of pregnancy.
Sometimes the fertility treatment is simple—go home and have unprotected sex. Other times the fertility treatment is complex, relying on fertility treatments like male fertility drugs to help the sperm get to the egg for fertilization. But no matter what’s involved, your fertility specialist will use information from the semen analysis to help your male partner father his own genetic children.
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