Semen Analysis

Written by Shannon Johnson | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Semen Analysis?

Semen analysis, also known as the sperm count test, analyzes the health of a man’s sperm. Semen is the fluid containing sperm that is released during male ejaculation. A semen analysis measures three major factors of sperm health:

  • number of sperm
  • shape of sperm
  • mobility of sperm

In order to get a good idea of your sperm’s health, doctors will often conduct two to three sperm analyses and average their numbers to get the most accurate reading.

Why Undergo Semen Analysis?

A sperm analysis is often recommended when couples are having problems getting pregnant. The test will help a doctor determine if a man is infertile. The analysis will also help determine if low sperm count or sperm dysfunction is the reason behind infertility.

Men who have had a vasectomy undergo semen analysis to make sure no sperm are in their semen. In a vasectomy, the tubes that send sperm from the testicles to the penis are cut and sealed as a permanent form of birth control. After a vasectomy, doctors often recommend that men take a sperm analysis once a month for three months to ensure that sperm is no longer present in their semen.

How to Prepare for Semen Analysis

Your doctor will let you know what you should do in preparation for the semen analysis. Following these instructions is very important if you are seeking accurate results.

To get the best sample:

  • avoid ejaculation for 24 to 72 hours before the test
  • avoid alcohol, caffeine, and drugs such as cocaine and marijuana two to five days before the test
  • stop taking any herbal medications, such as St. John’s wort and echinacea, as instructed by your healthcare provider
  • avoid any hormone medications as instructed by your healthcare provider

Discuss any medications you’re taking with your doctor.

How Is a Semen Analysis Test Conducted?

In order to conduct a semen analysis, you will need to provide the doctor with a semen sample. There are four main ways to collect a semen sample. They are:

  • masturbation
  • sex with a condom
  • sex with withdrawal before ejaculation
  • ejaculation stimulated by electricity

Masturbation is considered the best way to get a clean sample.

Getting a Good Sample

Two main factors are crucial to having a good testing sample. First, the semen must be kept at body temperature. If it gets too warm or too cold, the results will be inaccurate. Second, the semen must be delivered to the testing facility within one to two hours of leaving the body.

Test Interference

Some factors can negatively affect the test, including:

  • semen coming into contact with spermicide
  • taking the test when you’re ill or stressed
  • inexpert lab technician
  • sample becoming contaminated

There are no known risks associated with a sperm analysis.

What Are Normal Results?

Sperm shape: More than 50 percent of sperm are shaped normally

Movement: More than 50 percent of sperm move normally

pH: Between 7.2 and 7.8

Volume: Greater than 2 millimeters

Liquefaction: 15 to 30 minutes before liquefaction

Sperm count: 20 million to over 100 million

Appearance: Whitish to gray opalescent

Thickness: Smooth and watery

What Do Abnormal Results Mean?

Abnormal sperm will have trouble reaching and penetrating eggs, making conception difficult. Abnormal results could indicate the following:

  • infertility
  • infection
  • hormonal imbalance
  • disease such as diabetes
  • gene defects
  • exposure to radiation

If your results come back at abnormal levels, your doctor will probably suggest that you take additional tests. These tests include:

  • genetic tests
  • hormone testing
  • urinalysis after ejaculation
  • taking a tissue sample from your testicles
  • anti-sperm immune cells testing

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