Sperm Health and Fertility

Have you been trying for a baby for a year or more with no success? Infertility is not only a woman’s issue. Out of the 15% of couples who experience infertility, around half are attributed to the male.

It has been estimated that one in 20 men have a fertility issue of some kind, with lower than normal sperm count at ejaculation. The results of a recent study undertaken by the Human Reproduction Update also shows that infertility amongst Western men may very well be on an upward trajectory.

If conception is proving hard to achieve, it’s time to get checked. There’s no easy way to know if your sperm is good by simply looking at it. There are tools that can help you test at home, but no tool can replace an appointment with your doctor.

The most common causes of male infertility concern sperm health. Abnormally shaped sperm, sperm with poor motility, poor sperm quality, low sperm count and sperm that cannot attach the head to an egg or that cannot penetrate an egg, is problematic.

What makes me more prone to infertility?

Lifestyle plays an important role here. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and drug use, take a toll on your sperm. So does being overweight or obese and following a poor diet. If you’re one to over-exercise, you might also be inadvertently negatively affecting your sperm. Your work environment plays a role too. If you are being exposed to certain toxins, pesticides, or lead, as well as high temperatures, your sperm production may be suffering. Tight underwear may also be a culprit.

Which factors determine sperm health?

Sperm Count

A normal sperm count amounts to a range from 15 million to more than 200 million sperm per millimeter of semen. Fewer than 15 million sperm per millimeter, or less than 39 million sperm in an ejaculation, is considered as a low sperm count. Nonetheless, a normal count is not proof of fertility. Other factors come into play.

Sperm Morphology

When more than 50% of sperm are abnormally shaped, fertility is reduced. Testing will analyze the sperm’s head, midsection and tail as well as whether or not the sperm is immature and hence unable to effectively fertilize an egg.

Sperm Motility

It is considered the norm if sperm are moving normally an hour after ejaculation.  Sperm movement is important as sperm must travel to reach and fertilize an egg. Testing will give a score from 0 to 4. 0 means that the sperm is not moving; a higher score means better movement.

pH Level

Normal pH levels range from 7.2 to 7.8. A higher pH level may indicate infection; whilst a lower result may mean contaminated specimen or blocked ejaculatory ducts.

Liquefaction

Semen is initially thick. Once it turns to a watery consistency, the sperm can then move easily. If liquefaction is not taking place within 15 to 30 minutes, fertility could be affected.

Appearance

Semen with a red-brown tint or a yellow tint could indicate underlying issues. The normal appearance of semen should be white to gray and opalescent.

Tests to check sperm health

Home tests such as the Trak Male Fertility System allows you to measure and track your sperm count in the comfort and privacy of your home. It also provides education and personalized guidance on how you can up your sperm production.

Whilst home tracking tools can prove helpful, a visit to your doctor is still a must.  If infertility is suspected the following tests may be run:

Semen analysis

A semen analysis analyzes both the health and the viability of your sperm.  It measures the number of sperm, its shape and its movement. You will be asked to provide sperm collected via masturbation, sex with a condom, sex with withdrawal before ejaculation, or following an ejaculation stimulated by electricity.

Semen Culture

A Semen Culture tests for infections. It is done to identify and determine the kind of microorganism in semen fluid and which antibiotics are effective to it.

Vital Staining test

This determines how many live sperm there are in the sample when none or only a few of the sperm are moving. Some sperm do not have the capability to swim but are still alive. A staining procedure is used whereby a drop of red stain is combined with a portion of the sample. Sperm that absorb the stain are dead; living sperm have the ability to block the stain and remain white in appearance.

Blood Test

A blood test comes in helpful in checking for abnormal hormone levels or genetic disorders.

Sonogram

A sonogram obtains images of the testicles and surrounding tissue and checks for blockages. There is no specific preparation necessary before undergoing a sonogram; it is also a safe, painless procedure.

Testicular Biopsy

A testicular biopsy checks if sperm production is occurring normally. The procedure involves the removal of a small sample of tissue from one or both testicles under local or general anesthesia. The procedure takes from 15 to 20 minutes.

If you are being exposed to certain toxins, pesticides, or lead, as well as high temperatures, your sperm production may be suffering.

Anti-sperm antibodies

This test looks for antibodies which may be fighting against sperm. If a high number of antibodies are coming into contact with the sperm, either in blood, vaginal fluids, or semen, the sperm may find it hard to fertilize an egg. The testicles are what normally keep the sperm away from the immune system.  This test can be taken by both men and women. In women, a blood test is taken to check if her body is making sperm antibodies. For men, a semen sample is studied.

Vasography

Radiographic dye is injected into the testicles. An image of the testicles shows if there are any blockages in the vas deferens: the tubes that carry sperm in the testicles.

Dealing with Male Infertility

Coming to terms with fertility issues may not always be so straightforward. Unlike women, men are less inclined to talk about their reproductive health. Psychological issues also come into play as fertility is closely tied to men’s ego. In reality though, countless men struggle with infertility every single year; seeking help brings you closer to finding a solution.

There are options to identify the root cause of the issue, as well as family-building options to see you on your way towards achieving your dream of fatherhood. Identifying the problem, and finding solutions, is the first step towards reaching your goal.

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