What is a semen analysis?
A semen analysis, also called a sperm count, measures the quantity and quality of a man's semen and sperm. Semen is the thick, white fluid released from the penis during a man's sexual climax (orgasm). This release is called ejaculation. Semen contains sperm, the cells in a man that carry genetic material. When a sperm cell unites with an egg from a woman, it forms an embryo (the first stage of an unborn baby's development).
A low sperm count or abnormal sperm shape or movement can make it difficult for a man to make a woman pregnant. The inability to conceive a baby is called infertility. Infertility can affect men and women. For about one-third of couples unable to have children, male infertility is the reason. A semen analysis can help figure out the cause of male infertility.
Other names: sperm count, sperm analysis, semen testing, male fertility test
What is it used for?
A semen analysis is used to find out if a problem with semen or sperm may be causing a man's infertility. The test may also be used to see if a vasectomy has been successful. A vasectomy is a surgical procedure that is used to prevent pregnancy by blocking the release of sperm during sex.
Why do I need a semen analysis?
You may need a semen analysis if you and your partner have been trying to have a baby for at least 12 months without success.
If you've recently had a vasectomy, you may need this test to make sure the procedure has worked.
What happens during a semen analysis?
You will need to provide a semen sample. The most common way to provide your sample is to go to a private area in your health care provider's office and masturbate into a sterile container. You should not use any lubricants. If masturbation is against your religious or other beliefs, you may be able to collect your sample during intercourse using a special type of condom. Talk to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about providing your sample.
You will need to provide two or more additional samples within a week or two. That's because sperm count and semen quality can vary from day to day.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You will need to avoid sexual activity, including masturbation, for 2–5 days before the sample is collected. This will help make sure your sperm count is at its highest level.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is no known risk to a semen analysis.
What do the results mean?
The results of a semen analysis include measurements of quantity and quality of semen and sperm. These include:
- Volume: the amount of semen
- Sperm count: the number of sperm per milliliter
- Sperm movement, also known as motility
- Sperm shape, also known as morphology
- White blood cells, which may be a sign of an infection
If any of these results are not normal, it may mean there is problem with your fertility. But other factors, including the use of alcohol, tobacco, and some herbal medicines, can affect your results. If you have questions about your results or other concerns about your fertility, talk to your health care provider.
If your semen analysis was done to check the success of your vasectomy, your provider will look for the presence of any sperm. If no sperm is found, you and your partner should be able to stop using other forms of birth control. If sperm is found, you may need repeat testing until your sample is clear of sperm. In the meantime, you and your partner will have to take precautions in order to prevent pregnancy.
Many male fertility problems can be treated. If your semen analysis results were not normal, your health care provider may order more tests to help figure out the best approach to treatment.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
Is there anything else I need to know about a semen analysis?
There are at-home test kits that measure sperm count. Sperm count is the number of sperm in the fluid (semen) ejaculated during an orgasm. Sperm count is one of many factors in male infertility. You may have a normal sperm count and still have fertility problems. A home test may help find some fertility problems earlier for men who hesitate to see a provider due to cost, embarrassment, or other reasons. But it is not a replacement for a full evaluation and analysis by a health care provider.
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