First off, let’s say it like it is. We know that the highlight of a man’s day isn’t visiting a fertility clinic to drop off a sperm sample. (Or better yet, producing one on site.)
Which is why the option of at-home sperm tests are so enticing. You can test your sperm in the comfort and privacy of your own home and receive instant results! Sounds great, right?
The problem is that these tests only evaluate one (or two) factors at most, and only at the surface level. Would you be satisfied if a cancer screening only tested a third of your body? We’re guessing no.
When sperm is tested by an andrologist (a specialist in male reproductive health) and reproductive endocrinologist, they are making an evaluation based on six different factors:
- Sperm Count – This assesses the concentration of sperm in a sample to calculate a sperm count. The normal range is 15 million sperm or more. If numbers are lower, an issue with sperm production or blockage may be present.
- Motility – This evaluates whether or not your sperm can move properly. A normal range has 40 percent or more swimming along. When numbers are lower, it can indicate a number of issues such as hormonal problems, varicocele (a varicose vein on the scrotum), or exposure to toxins such as chemicals, cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs.
- Morphology – This factor focuses on the shape of the head, neck, and tail of sperm. Abnormal sperm can have a misshapen head, irregular neck, and tails that are broken, coiled, or multiple in number. Abnormal morphology means the sperm cannot successfully fertilize the egg, and may even play a role in embryo development.
- Volume – The volume of a sperm sample can be a helpful indicator of issues. A normal volume is between ¼ - 1 teaspoon. A lower volume can simply be dehydration but can also indicate a blockage or issue. Lower semen volume may hamper access of adequate sperm to the cervix.
- Total Motile Count – This calculates the total amount of moving sperm. The normal range has at least 20 million moving sperm, but an optimal sample has 40 million or more. For men with a total motile count of 10-20 million, Intrauterine Insemination may be helpful. For men with less than 10 million, In Vitro Fertilization may be recommended.
- Additional Factors - A semen analysis also reviews other important factors such as white blood cell count, presence of an infection and inflammation, all of which may impact fertility.
At-home tests focus primarily on numbers for sperm count and/or motility on a very basic level. The quality of the motility (for example, are the sperm moving straight ahead or spinning in circles) is not evaluated in a home test. The costs can range from $50-199 and there is no way to confirm whether the results are being calculated by a machine or an experienced professional. If you read the fine print, these tests also clarify that a test result does not clear the user of fertility issues.
In our experience, abnormal morphology is the single most common finding despite a man having normal count and motility levels. Abnormal morphology is also the most likely to be present in previously fertile men due to the variability of the findings and changes in other factors mentioned above.
Should you do an at-home test and receive concerning results, the next step will be to see a physician. Your physician will need to do a full semen analysis, which means you’ll be paying for testing twice.
Remember that a single semen analysis does not tell the whole story, whether normal or abnormal. Careful evaluation by an andrologist and review by a reproductive endocrinologist can make interpretation and recommendations valid and efficient.
Did you know that you could have all six factors assessed by an experienced andrologist for only $90 with the Fertility Awareness Checkup? (It includes testing for a woman, or you can do the checkup for a man only.) If you decide to move forward with treatment, that fee is applied as a credit toward treatment costs. Comprehensive testing at an affordable price will save money and time on the path to having a family.
If you do receive unexpected results, know that there are ways to boost fertility naturally in men, and treatment available when needed. Sperm regenerates every 90 days, so any positive changes can take effect relatively quickly. Making lifestyle changes such as eating healthy, exercising, quitting cigarettes and vaping, cutting down on alcohol and staying away from cannabis can make a huge difference. Taking 200 mg twice a day of enzyme CoQ10, 1000 mg of fish oil twice daily and a daily multivitamin with folic acid can improve sperm health and quality.
Author Bio: Dr. Edward Marut, lifetime board-certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI).