Once your sample arrives at the lab, it will be assessed for many different factors. First, the fertility doctor will examine the semen.
- Semen Volume: Normal semen volume can range from between 2 and 6ml. If the volume is found to be abnormal, either too low or too high, it is likely that there is a problem with the seminal vesicles and/or prostate. A low semen volume will make it difficult for sperm to make its way to the cervix while a high semen volume will decrease the concentration of sperm by diluting them.
- Viscosity: This refers to the semen’s ability to return to a liquid form shortly after ejaculation. If semen does not liquefy, or if it becomes too thick, then there is likely an infection in the seminal vesicles and prostate.
- pH Balance: Semen should have an alkaline pH in order to protect it from the acidic vaginal fluids. If the semen has taken on a more acidic pH, then a problem with the seminal vesicle can be suspected.
- Fructose: This sugar is a necessary component to seminal fluid as it provides sperm with energy. Lack of fructose indicates a block somewhere along the male reproductive tract.
Once analysis of the semen has been conducted, your fertility specialist will move on to examining the quality and quantity of sperm.
Often compared to tadpoles because of their shape, a sperm cell is not visible to the naked eye and needs to be examined under a microscope. During a semen analysis, sperm are assessed on their volume, motility, morphology, and the presence of clumping.
- Sperm Count: How many sperm are present in your semen sample is important as too few can significantly decrease your chances of conceiving. A man is considered to have a low sperm count if his sample is found to have less than 20 million sperm per ml. A diagnosis of a very low sperm count is given when sperm volume falls below 10 million per ml. Men that are found to have no sperm in their semen are said to be azoospermic.
- Sperm Motility: This part of the test assesses how well your sperm can swim. Obviously, the stronger the swimmers, the better as it is quite a journey for the sperm to make it from the uterus to the fallopian tubes. Sperms are evaluated according to a four-level grade system:
- Grade 4 sperm are known to have progressive motility meaning they are the strongest and swim fast in a straight line.
- Grade 3 sperm (non-linear motility) also move forward but tend to travel in a curved or crooked motion.
- Grade 2 sperm are labeled as non-progressive motility because they do not move forward despite the fact that they move their tails.
- Grade 1 sperm are immotile, meaning that they fail to move at all.
Ideal sperm quality dictates that a man should have grade 3 or 4 sperm in order to fertilize an egg.