Semen Analysis and Other Infertility Testing Procedures for Men
Like many medical problems, infertility can be caused by any of a number of conditions or factors. In order to treat the problem, we must understand its source. When a couple seeks out fertility treatment for the first time, a series of tests are performed to help identify the cause or causes of their infertility. For men, a semen analysis is the first infertility testing procedure performed at our Fort Lauderdale-area practice in Florida, but additional tests will most likely be necessary to pinpoint any specific problems.
A semen analysis is generally the first infertility testing procedure performed during a couple's fertility assessment because it is non-invasive and can tell us a great deal. The semen is collected by masturbation into a sterile specimen cup and sent immediately to our lab. There, the sample will be examined and several measurements will be taken. Among these are quantity of semen, concentration of sperm, sperm motility, and sperm morphology.
The quantity or volume of semen can vary a good deal, but generally falls within the range of one and a half to five milliliters. When the volume is notably lower than the bottom of this range, it can indicate a prostate or seminal vesicle defect and sperm may not be delivered effectively to the cervix. If the volume is too high, it can decrease concentration, which also impairs effective delivery of the sperm.
The concentration of sperm cells is the semen analysis measurement commonly referred to as the sperm count. This value can fluctuate significantly, but is generally considered normal whenever the number of sperm per milliliter is at or above 20 million. A diagnosis of low sperm count during infertility testing can mean several things. For instance, there may be a problem with the production of sperm or there may be a physical obstruction that is inhibiting the normal movement of sperm from the testes.
Sperm that move normally are considered "motile." The ability of sperm to move through the female reproductive system toward the egg is necessary for conception. Although a semen analysis always detects a certain percentage of sperm cells that move irregularly or do not move at all, when the majority of sperm show poor motility, the chances of conception are significantly decreased. The most common causes of poor motility are varicoceles and infections. Additional infertility testing procedures will usually be performed to identify the source of the problem.
In a semen analysis, morphology refers to the shape of sperm. A normal sperm cell has an oval head and a single thin tail. Abnormally shaped sperm, such as those with an additional tail or a misshapen head, are not considered capable of fertilization. When a significant number of abnormally shaped sperm are found, additional infertility testing is usually needed to determine what is affecting their production.
Some of the most common causes of male infertility can only be identified during a physical examination. By checking the reproductive organs for size, firmness, position, and swelling, an experienced urologist can identify or rule out a range of common problems.
If the results of the semen analysis indicate a possible blockage, ultrasound or x-ray examination may also be used to determine if and where an obstruction exists.
A hormonal workup is a simple infertility testing procedure that involves measuring the levels of testosterone, FSH, and LH in the blood. High or low levels of any of these hormones can have significant effects on male reproductive potential and may indicate an underlying fertility problem that requires treatment.
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If you have additional questions about how a semen analysis or other infertility testing procedure at our Fort Lauderdale, Florida-area practice is performed, or what it can reveal, please contact our offices.