How is male fertility tested?

If you and your partner are having a hard time conceiving, your healthcare provider might have you both undergo a few tests to see if either of you has a fertility problem. It’s easier and less expensive for men to get their fertility tested, so in many cases, providers test men first to rule out potential complications with their sperm.

The following are the tests a provider might start with.

Semen analysis

Specialists check a semen sample for things like volume, the total sperm count, the motility or movement of the sperm, how the sperm are shaped, and how many sperm there are per milliliter of semen. This process is usually repeated over the course of a few weeks, since the characteristics of sperm can fluctuate and change on a day-to-day basis.

Hormone tests

Hormones play a huge role in reproduction. If a man’s semen analysis appears to be abnormal, he’ll probably need further tests. A  healthcare provider might order a blood test to check a man’s levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and testosterone (T), two hormones that can affect sperm production.

If further tests are needed, they’ll likely be one or more of the following.

Vital stain

This is an important test to help see how many sperm are viable or non-viable. A specialist will take some of the semen sample and stain it with a drop of color. If the sample resists the color, it means the sperm are alive – they’re able to keep the color out. If the color blends into the semen sample, it means the sperm aren’t alive and have absorbed the color. The specialist will count exactly how many sperm were viable and non-viable, and then report a percentage of that.

Antisperm antibodies test

Sometimes, especially after infection or injury, a man’s body starts making antibodies that work against sperm. Specifically, they attach to sperm and affect how sperm move, which can make getting pregnant significantly more difficult. To perform this test, a specialist will take a sperm sample and add a particular substance that binds to the proteins that make up antisperm antibodies. This will alow the specialist to see if any of these antisperm antibodies are present and not allowing the sperm to function properly.

Peroxidase staining or semen culture

These tests check for an inflammation or infection that might be affecting the sperm. Peroxidase staining involves the specialist looking at how many white blood cells and immature sperm cells are in the sample, which tells them if there’s an infection. Semen culture allows the specialist to see if there’s any harmful bacteria in the sample.

DNA testing or biochemical analysis

These tests can check the chemical content of sperm, as well as the quality of the sperm’s DNA. In some cases, male infertility can be linked to genetic problems in the sperm.

Male fertility tests are often a couple’s first steps towards starting the family they’d like to have. Not all of these tests may be needed, however, so make sure to discuss with your provider which of these tests, if any, may help further your treatment going forward.

  • Robert Cook-Deegan. “Testing for male infertility.” Stanford.web. Stanford-in-Washington Seminar and Tutorial: How Decisions Are Made About Health Research and Health Policy, 2003. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Tests and diagnosis.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Aug 11 2015. Web.
  • “Vital Staining of Sperm.” OvationFertility. Ovation Fertility, 2016. Web.
  • “Antisperm Antibody Test.” UofMHealth. Regents of the University of Michigan, May 22 2015.
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