Blog written by Michelle Ottey, PhD, Laboratory Director
The CDC website lists data from a 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. They found that 7.5% of sexually experienced men under the age of 45 have visited a fertility doctor. These men visited a fertility doctor, presumably, due to an inability to conceive. Eighteen percent were diagnosed with a male-related infertility problem, including sperm or semen problems (14%) and varicocele (6%). A varicocele is a condition that causes a man’s testicular veins to be enlarged, which leads to the testes overheating. When this occurs sperm morphology (shape) and motility can be affected.
Male infertility is not often discussed, and can be a challenging emotional hurdle to a couple who is trying to start or add to their family. Male infertility is caused by numerous factors such as medical conditions, medications, lifestyle choices involving alcohol, drug use, smoking, and environment. All of these factors can lead to low sperm counts, poor motility, and below average morphology scores.
If a couple is having trouble conceiving, a semen analysis is the easiest method used to test fertility. The male partner will produce a semen specimen via self-masturbation and that specimen will be analyzed for count, motility, grade, morphology, and overall appearance. It is recommended that a minimum of two semen analyses be completed before drawing any conclusions about overall fertility or additional testing. The following is a chart representing the World Health Organization’s Standards for semen parameters.
|Semen Parameter||WHO 2010 Standard|
|Liquefaction||20-60 minutes the coagulated semen should liquefy|
|General Appearance||The color and viscosity will be observed: the semen should not be red or pink which would indicate the presence of red blood cells|
|Volume||The volume or amount of semen should be 1.5 mL or more|
|pH||7.2 or lower is considered normal|
|Count||Greater than 40 million cells/mL|
|Motility||Is presented as a percent; you will see a simple motility which should be 50% or greater|
|Vitality||If a sample has a low motility, a viability stain should be done to determine if the sperm are dead or only immotile.|
If the male partner’s specimen cannot be used to achieve pregnancy, the couple has the option of working with a sperm bank to purchase donor sperm for insemination.
Couples are able to search through the available donors on the sperm bank’s donor search to identify the perfect donor match for them. They can look for donors with similar ethnic origins to the male partner, similar physical features, etc. There are hundreds of sperm donors available through commercial sperm banks which allows for a diverse group of couples the ability to find a good match.