What is semen analysis?
A semen analysis, also known as a sperm count, is a medical examination that measures and assesses the quality of sperm and semen in general.
A semen analysis assesses whether:
- Your sperm has a normal appearance
- There is sufficient sperm in your seminal fluid
- The DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) of your sperm is optimal
Is semen analysis right for me?
Semen analysis is usually recommended for the following issues:
- Infertility: couples who are having difficulty getting pregnant will undergo a range of tests with semen analysis being one of them. It allows your doctor to determine if you are infertile and also determine whether sperm dysfunction or low sperm count is the cause of your infertility.
- Post-vasectomy: checks for the presence of sperm in the semen after a vasectomy. During a vasectomy, the tubes that transfer sperm from your testicles to the penis are cut and sealed.
How do I prepare for my semen analysis?
You must abstain from ejaculation for three days but not more than five days before your scheduled appointment.
Your doctor will let you know what else you should do to prepare for your semen analysis test.
Note: It is imperative that you stick to your doctor’s advice to ensure accurate results.
How is the semen analysis procedure conducted?
In order for a semen analysis to occur, your doctor will require a sample of your semen. You may provide a sample in the following ways:
- Sex using a condom
- Ejaculation stimulated by electricity
Masturbation is the best way to attain the cleanest semen sample. You will have the option to produce your semen sample at a private collection site/clinic or at your home— this sample must be delivered to your testing facility within 30-60 minutes of leaving your body.
What does the semen analysis test look for?
The semen analysis looks for the following:
- pH: the pH level of your semen will be analysed. Semen should be slightly alkaline because vaginal culture is fairly acidic, this combination provides a suitable environment for fertilisation. Acidic semen can destroy the sperm or even prevent fertilisation. pH problems are commonly caused by tubal blockages, especially in the tubes that transport semen.
- Volume: semen volume must be the right amount. Low semen volume could mean low sperm volume whereas high semen volume could mean that the amount of sperm available is diluted.
- Sperm count/concentration: high concentration of sperm increases the chances of fertilisation while low sperm count could mean the individual is infertile. Low sperm count has been linked to toxic substance exposure, varicoceles, hormonal imbalance, inflammatory diseases, infection, and duct issues. High fever, heat exposure to your scrotum, some medications, excess alcohol consumption, smoking, and being overweight are other possible causes of low sperm count. The total absence of sperm, a condition known as azoospermia, may be caused by a duct or testicular issue, or hormonal imbalance.
- Viability: sperm viability describes the percentage of live sperm in your semen. Your doctor will want to establish whether sperm motility is low, as this will help them differentiate between live non-motile sperm and dead sperm.
- White blood cell count: white blood cells tend to be higher in men who struggle with fertility problems. White blood cells in semen are also linked to imparted sperm motility, reduced sperm numbers, and malfunctioning sperms. High levels of white blood cells in semen could indicate an infection of the male reproductive tract.
- Sperm motility: sperm must be able to travel toward the egg. There are three major types of motility, progressive motility, non-progressive motility, and immotility. With progressive motility, the sperm are able to exhibit a forward movement either in a circle or a line. This is the preferred motility. On the other hand, non-progressive motility describes sperm that either don’t move in a tight circular motion or swim forward. Finally, immotile sperm do not move at all.
- Morphology: describes the shape of the sperm cells. During semen analysis, your doctor will take the measurements of the head, midsection, and tail of your sperm, and calculate the proportion of each section.
How can you boost your sperm count?
There are a few things you can do to boost your sperm count including:
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests: get tested for STIs. Infections such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can result in the scarring of your reproductive tract, resulting in infertility.
- Boost your sex hormonal levels: naturally enhance the levels of sex hormones in your system through weight loss, exercise, building muscle mass, and minimising your cortisol and stress levels. A great night’s sleep can also help boost your sex hormones.
- Lifestyle changes: making healthy lifestyle choices like quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption may help improve your hormonal levels and sperm quality.
- Antioxidants: consume superfoods that contain higher levels of antioxidants. Foods that contain selenium and zinc such as seeds, nuts, oysters, and green vegetables aid in the production of quality sperm. Minimise your consumption of processed foods and those that contain high amounts of phytoestrogens such as soya beans.
- Medications: certain medications can impact your overall sperm count, including testosterone therapy, chemotherapy, long-term use of steroids, rheumatic drugs, and prostate drugs such as alpha-blockers and 5ARIs.
- Heat: exposure to abnormally high temperatures or having a recent high fever can impact your sperm count. Avoid tight-fitting pants and underwear. If you work in an area where you are exposed to toxic chemicals, make sure you have the right PPE to protect yourself.