Sperm Testing - Motility & Semen

Male Fertility Testing

Male fertility testing, known as sperm tests or semen tests are necessary to evaluate the count, morphology (shape), and motility (movement), of a man's sperm. When a couple has had difficulty conceiving a pregnancy, then both the man and woman undergo some testing to see where the problems lie. In 50 percent of all cases of infertility in couples, the man's low fertility is the issue.

There are several factors the doctor will assess in order to determine the health of the man's sperm- the sperm count, the morphology of the sperm (the shape, size, and appearance), and the motility of the sperm (mobility). The count should be in the range of 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen and the shape of normal sperm should be an oval head, an intact, uncoiled body and a single tail.

Determining Motility

What is of paramount importance is determining the number of sperm that are moving forward rapidly toward the egg. The sperm motility component of the semen analysis identifies the number of moving sperm seen in an ejaculate specimen. When this component is done in a lab, there are a great number of variables that can affect the outcome of the test. Motility of the sperm is temperature dependent, so the timing and method in which the sperm are handled is vitally important. Tight laboratory controls are necessary to ensure an accurate reading. Sperm do not live long in semen and, in their natural action they quickly leave the semen and move toward the cervical mucus. A normal sperm motility assessment would indicate that a man's sperm with 40% or greater sperm motility is standard.

When Sperm Isn't Moving Properly...

If decreased sperm motility is noted, the laboratory conditions must first be ruled out as the cause. Once that is established, then there are a few possible causes of low sperm motility. These include abnormal sperm manufacture, maturation problems, abnormalities in the transport of the sperm and varicocele, and perhaps a varicose vein in the scrotum.

...Or At All

Necrozoospermia is the technical word for a total absence of moving sperm. If sperm are seen and not moving, then a test must be performed to see if they are alive. It is possible to have sperm that have the normal reproductive genetics without motility, in which case the non-motile sperm can be injected directly into the egg. This process is called ICSI.

Analyzing the Semen

The pH of the semen is placed on a specially treated paper that changes color with the level of pH present. Normal semen has a slightly alkaline pH ranging from 7.2 to 7.8. While the pH of semen has not been found to be an issue in male fertility, it does reflect a possible dysfunction in the prostate gland or the seminal vesicles. Semen is normally translucent or whitish-gray in color. If there is blood in the semen, it will appear brown, pink, or bright red. Blood in the semen is not normal and requires immediate medical attention, as does the presence of particles, mucus or other debris.

Finally, the semen must liquefy and not have any clumping caused by agglutination. Semen liquefies within 30 minutes. If it does not liquefy after one hour it is considered abnormal. Viscosity is determined by the ability of the semen to liquefy and be poured out of a beaker without any clumping or agglutination. If there is clumping, it is associated with the inability of the sperm to swim freely and travel to the egg without hindrance.

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