Of the 11 million couples who try for a baby each year, around 2 million will experience fertility issues. If you and your partner are struggling to conceive, you’re likely to be referred for fertility tests to determine the cause.
On average, around 50% of infertility issues can be attributed to the male. Only 20% of couples who are struggling to conceive have the cause investigated with fertility tests.
When should you seek fertility testing?
If you and your partner have been trying for a baby through unprotected intercourse for a year and you have not successfully conceived, you should seek medical assistance.
If your partner is aged 35 or above or there is a family history of fertility issues, your GP may suggest fertility investigation sooner than this.
What male fertility tests are available?
A number of male fertility tests are available to discover why you may be struggling to conceive.
Your GP is likely to refer you to a fertility specialist The specialist will examine you and ask questions about your medical history and lifestyle such as:
- What are your exercise habits?
- Do you take any regular medication?
- Do you smoke?
- Do you drink?
- Have you had any surgery in the past?
The specialist may also ask you about your sexual history. You will also be asked to provide a sample of semen for analysis.
A semen analysis will identify:
- Sperm count – the number of sperm per ml in the sample
- Sperm morphology – the size and shape of the sperm
- Sperm motility – how fast sperm progress and whether they travel in a straight line
If the sample returns with an unusual result, you will be referred for further tests.
Generally, if you have a large number of normal-shaped sperm, your overall fertility will be better. There are some exceptions, as you can still be fertile if you have a low sperm count or poor sperm morphology.
These tests are the basic tests for sperm semen analysis. They look at the obvious areas, for example if there are no sperm in the ejaculate, then there might be an obstruction in the tubes coming from the testes.
Abnormally shaped sperm are generally less able to fertilise an egg. If sperm do not have good motility, they are less likely to make it to the egg or to be able to penetrate the egg, leading to conception.
There are however many more aspects to sperm function than these parameters. The quality and structure of the DNA in the sperm can be critical to determine whether the sperm is able to fertilise the egg and the quality of any resulting embryo, but this is not routinely measured. Sperm with faulty DNA may have genetic problems that could result in early pregnancy loss.
DNA fragmentation or the ‘snipping-up’ of the DNA in the sperm is a major factor in the fertilising ability of the sperm and also determines the quality of the embryo. Many men with sperm problems also have sperm DNA fragmentation.
A fertility supplement could be beneficial to improve the quality of your sperm and boost your chances of conception – both naturally and through assisted reproductive technology (ART).
Although DNA fragmentation can be prevented through the use of antioxidants, these strong agents can have the unintended consequence of causing decondensation of the DNA in the sperm head.
Hormone tests can identify if there are any problems with the production of testosterone or other hormones which contribute to the production of healthy sperm. Do bear in mind that hormone issues are only attributed to around 3% of infertile men.
Genetic testing can determine if there are any hereditary medical issues which may be causing difficulties in conception.
A specific male fertility test can also identify if your body is producing abnormal antibodies which attack the sperm before it reaches the egg, preventing conception.
If you and your partner are struggling to conceive, don’t hesitate to seek advice from a medical professional – the cause could be very straightforward, with male fertility tests able to identify the issue and seek the appropriate treatment.