Statistics reveal that in the last 50 years, the sperm count of the average American male has dropped from 120 million sperm per milliliter of semen to just over 50 million. Researchers also state that there have been also been losses in sperm quality of the average American male over the years. Today, a normal average sperm count is 20 million. Semen analysis can help you understand the state of your semen and hence your chances of getting pregnant.
Semen analysis is a scientific examination of sperm production and release in men. In semen analysis, a sample of ejaculate can be examined to assess whether there is a problem with the quantity or quality of sperm. Semen analysis includes the examination of the following types of cells:
- Other cells present in semen
- Seminal fluid
When all these three parts are examined cumulatively, they can give you a clear idea of the semen, its viability and fertility.
What does a semen analysis entail?
For a semen analysis, a fresh semen sample, not more than half an hour old is needed, after sexual abstinence for at least 2 to 4 days. The abstinence helps to concentrate the sperm in examination. The man is asked to masturbate into a clean, wide mouthed bottle that is then delivered to the laboratory. It can be quite stressful for some men to produce a semen sample at demand. Men who have this problem can and should ask for help.
The semen sample is kept at room temperature in spotlessly clean container to avoid contamination. After waiting for about 30 minutes post ejaculation, to allow the semen to liquefy, the doctor will check the semen for the following characterstics:
- The volume of the ejaculate
Normal volume of ejaculate in healthy men is about 2 to 6 ml. A low volume (less than 1 ml) is often due to incomplete ejaculation or spillage. Since the major portion of the ejaculate is produced in the seminal vesicles, a low volume can relate to a problem with seminal vesicle function. However, a very high volume of ejaculate can also be a problem because this dilutes the total sperm present. This decreases the sperm concentration and also your chances of getting pregnant.
- Semen viscosity
Usually after ejaculation the semen should liquefy again in about 30 minutes. This allows the sperm free motility. If the semen does not liquefy or if it is very thick in consistency even after liquefaction, this suggests an infection of the seminal vesicles and prostate.
- Semen pH
Normally the pH of semen is alkaline because of the seminal vesicle secretion. An alkaline pH protects the sperm from the acidity of the vaginal fluid. An acidic pH suggests problems with seminal vesicle function. It is usually found in association with a low volume of the ejaculate and the absence of fructose.
- Presence of fructose.
Fructose is a sugar is produced by the seminal vesicles and provides energy for sperm motility. Its absence suggests a block in the male reproductive tract in ejaculatory duct.
- Visual examination of the sample under the microscope.
Sperm count means the number of sperm present per ml of semen. If the sample has less than 20 million sperm per ml, this is considered to be a low sperm count. Less than 10 million is very low. Some men who have no sperm at all and in their semen are said to be azoospermic.
- Sperm motility
The quality of the sperm is often more significant than the count. Sperm motility is its ability to move. Remember that only those sperm that move forward fast are able to swim up to the egg and fertilize it. Motility is graded from a to d, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Manual criteria, as follows.
- Grade a sperm are those that swim forward fast in a straight line.
- Grade b sperm swim forward, but either in a curved or crooked line, or slowly.
- Grade c sperm move their tails, but do not move forward.
- Grade d sperm do not move at all. Sperm of grade c and d are considered poor.
- Sperm form or morphology.
Ideally, a good sperm should have a regular oval head, with a connecting mid-piece and a long straight tail. An abnormal sperm is distorted in its shape. If too many sperm are abnormally shaped (round heads; pin heads; very large heads; double heads; absent tails) this may mean the sperm are abnormal and will not be able to fertilize the egg. A normal sample should have at least 15% normal forms.
- Sperm clumping or agglutination.
Sperm clumping or agglutination means that many sperm stick together in groups or clusters. This impairs sperm motility and prevents the sperm from swimming up to through the cervix towards the egg.
- Presence or absence of pus cells.
While a few white blood cells in the semen are normal, many pus cells suggest the presence of seminal infection. This also can affect the viability of the sperm.