Preliminary Male Fertility Tests - Semen Analysis Testing

Male fertility tests are an integral part of diagnosing fertility problems; in fact, between 40 to 50% of fertility issues that couples experience are related to male fertility problems. As such, a semen analysis test is an important fertility test, and is indeed the most common type of male fertility testing. A semen analysis test is a non-invasive preliminary test.

What is A Semen Analysis Test?

A semen analysis test assesses the morphology (shape), motility (movement) and maturity of sperm, and also evaluates sperm count.

This type of male fertility test is generally performed in a laboratory; however, in cases when the patient lives close to the laboratory, it can be performed as an at home male fertility test. This is because a semen analysis needs to be analyzed within two hours of its collection in order to provide accurate results. The earlier the semen analysis test results are evaluated, the more accurate they will be.

A semen sample can be obtained either via ejaculation or through intercourse by using a special condom provided by your fertility specialist.

Preparing for A Semen Analysis Test

In order to prepare for a semen analysis test, you must not engage in sexual activity that results in ejaculation for 2 to 3 days prior to the test.

Semen Analysis Test Results

Semen analysis test results are central to male fertility testing as they can detect problems with regard to sperm production, count and quality.

Analysis of semen is based on a variety of factors:

  • volume: normal semen volume levels range from 2 to 6 millilitres. If semen volume levels are either too high or too low, there is likely a problem with the prostate or seminal vesicles. Low semen volume levels can make it difficult for sperm to reach the cervix, while high semen volume levels can result in a reduced concentration of sperm because they cause sperm dilution
  • viscosity: this term describes the ability of semen to return to liquid form shortly after ejaculation occurs. Semen inability to liquefy or excessive thickening generally indicates an infection in the prostate or the vesicle
  • pH balance: normal sperm analysis test results show an alkaline semen level; this is because alkalinity protects sperm from damage. High acidic levels are usually a sign of a seminal vesicle problem
  • fructose: this substance provides sperm with energy; as such, low levels of fructose in semen may indicate a blockage in the male reproductive system

In addition, a sperm analysis test evaluates sperm health based on the following criteria:

  • sperm count: both high and low sperm count levels indicate a male fertility problem. A low sperm count is defined as a number below 20 million sperm per millilitre; a very low sperm count is designated as a sperm count of less than 10 million sperm per millilitre. A total absence of sperm represents a condition known as azoospermia.
  • sperm motility: sperm movement is evaluated based on a 4-level grading system:
    grade four: defined as sperm with progressive motility, these sperm are the strongest and the fastest, and also travel in a straight line
    grade three: sperm with non-linear motility have the ability to move forward, but have a predisposition toward moving along a curved or crooked path
    grade two: non-progressive sperm are unable to move forward but do have tail movement
    grade one: defined as immotile sperm, sperm designated at this level are unable to move
    Ideally, men should have grade three and grade four level sperm in order to be able to fertilize an egg.
  • morphology: a semen analysis test can also evaluate sperm shape, as abnormal shape results in the inability of sperm to fertilize an egg. Normal sperm have a long tail, mid-piece and an oval head. If a high number of sperm are abnormal in shape, it generally indicates that all sperm share this problem.
  • clumping: this term refers to when the sperm stick together, leading to problems fertilizing the egg because clumping impedes normal sperm motility.

In addition to these elements, a semen analysis test evaluates whether there is a high level of white blood cells in semen, a condition which is generally a sign of infection and which adversely affects male fertility. The test can also help to diagnose such male fertility problems as Klinefelter’s syndrome.