For men wishing to find out more about their fertility, a range of sperm tests are available. A routine sperm test will look at the volume of sperm, sperm count, shape and motility of the sperm. Sometimes more advanced tests are performed for certain indications or if an initial test has shown a possible problem.
The sample can be provided at home and then taken to the laboratory within 1 hour. Or produced onsite within the clinic next to the laboratory. Either way an appointment is necessary so that the sample can be promptly analysed.
The World Health Organisation reference values for sperm are: pH 7.2 or more, concentration 15/ml or more, total number 39 million or more, motility 40% or more or 32% with progressive motility, vitality 58% or more, normal forms 4% or more.
The quality and number of sperm can vary from day to day so if the values reported are slightly lower than the reference range it will be recommended to repeat the sample.
In about a third of people experiencing fertility problems it is due to a sperm problem. Whilst there are a number of medical causes for this, it is important to also appreciate that optimising your lifestyle and general health has an impact on sperm. This applies to everyone planning a pregnancy, not just those experiencing a delay to conceive.
It takes around 74 days for the testes to make a sperm so if you are planning a pregnancy we recommend optimising your lifestyle at least 3 months beforehand.
There is high quality evidence that smoking adversely affects the number, motility and morphology of sperm. There is also some evidence that it affects the genetic make up of sperm, which can be seen in sperm DNA fragmentation tests. For help with smoking cessation please visit the Somerset NHS smoking support website.
Minimising your alcohol intake is also advisable. Studies have suggested a reduction in semen parameters with high alcohol intake, but the effect was reversible after 10-12 weeks of cessation.
A healthy diet is also beneficial to sperm. A diet high in seafood, poultry, nuts, fruit and vegetables is best for spermatogenesis (making sperm). Having a body mass index (BMI) in the normal range is likely to also improve sperm health.
To make sperm the testes need to be within an optimal temperature range, so long periods of excessive heat are best avoided.
There are a number of other lifestyle factors being studied, including the affect of mobile phones. Initial in vitro studies on high frequency electro magnetic fields such as those emitted by phones have shown a detrimental effect on semen, but more research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
To find out more about booking a sperm test please book a free mini telephone consultation or 30 minute consultation with one of our fertility clinicians.