SPERM ANALYSIS AND MALE INFERTILITY
The good news for blokes is that many of the sperm conditions affecting your fertility are preventable or reversible.
Here’s a fact for you; the lifecycle of sperm is 74-76 days. In other words, it takes somewhere between that long for new sperm to be produced and fully mature. This can be quite good news for men who are looking to conceive with their partner, as it means a little over two months of clean living may help you produce healthier, better quality sperm – sperm that’s capable of helping you and your partner become pregnant.
That said, in many cases where male infertility is diagnosed, there are no obvious signs of a problem. Usually, you’ll be able to have sex, maintain erections and ejaculate without difficulty and the quantity and appearance of your ejaculated semen can appear normal.
You’ve probably been told to watch your weight or you’ll risk developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes but did you know that your beer belly might be causing you and your partner trouble conceiving as well?
That’s right, an unhealthy weight – in either partner – can also have a significant impact on your ability to conceive.
Being overweight or obese not only reduces the chances of a couple conceiving naturally, but also means fertility treatment, such as IVF, is less likely to be successful. So you may need to embark on a healthy eating and exercise program to increase fertility.
Obesity can lower your sperm count by up to 50 per cent due to hormonal changes. Being obese reduces your level of testosterone as testosterone is converted to oestrogen in the fat tissue. The oestrogen produced has a negative feedback effect reducing the production of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). A reduction in LH and FSH results in a reduction in the production of sperm and that can reduce your chance of getting your partner pregnant by up to 50 per cent. Overweight men are also more likely to suffer erectile dysfunction.
Increased body fat in men is also associated with raised testicular temperature which further adversely affects sperm production and function. But what’s of more concern is that male obesity can also affect sperm DNA integrity. If the sperm DNA is damaged (known as sperm DNA fragmentation) this can have a strong negative effect on both the chance of natural conception and conception with IVF treatment. Sadly, this can also significantly increase the risk of miscarriage.
Fortunately, losing weight can help improve your chance of conceiving and minimise the risk of complications if your partner does fall pregnant.
Losing weight leads to an improvement in testosterone levels, sperm counts and sexual function.
The good news is that weight loss itself can be an effective fertility treatment and many of our patients conceive naturally after focusing on their diet and trying to exercise more.
MALE INFERTILITY TESTS
The first step in understanding what’s happening with your sperm and finding out why it might not be performing the way you’d like is to conduct a semen analysis.
This area of medicine is called Andrology and it’s essentially the male equivalent of gynaecology.
Testing for male infertility is a very straightforward process and the basic analysis of your semen will examine three factors:
- Sperm count – the number of sperm per ml of ejaculate;
- Sperm motility – the sperm’s ability to swim; and
- Sperm morphology – the shape and size of the sperm.
There are a number of different non-invasive tests you’ll likely undergo to determine the viability of your sperm:
Tests the overall appearance, acidity/alkalinity and volume of the semen, measures the sperm concentration, motility and vitality, and assesses morphology.
Sperm Chromatin Integrity Test (SCIT)
A test for sperm DNA fragmentation. High levels of DNA fragmentation in sperm can be a factor in miscarriage and male infertility.
Detects bacterial infections of the urinary tract that might affect sperm function.
Retrograde Ejaculation Evaluation
Determines whether ejaculation is in fact retrograde and whether sperm can be successfully isolated from the urine for an assisted conception procedure.
For men with severely depressed sperm counts, a genetic basis can be identified, and the likelihood of passing the condition on to the children can be assessed.
Tests can be performed on the semen or the blood of either partner to detect the presence of antisperm antibodies;
If you’ve had a vasectomy, we test for the presence of sperm in the ejaculate as part of your routine follow up post-surgery to verify the success of the procedure.
Can indicate if there is a problem with the seminal vesicles (the gland which contributes the major part of ejaculate volume). This test is done routinely in all cases of Azoospermia.