If you and your partner have been struggling to conceive for a year or more, it’s important to be proactive about infertility tests: for both men and women. Infertility is often a multi-faceted issue. Male infertility plays a significant part in nearly half of all couples who have problems conceiving. In over 30% of cases, it is solely due to male infertility factors. Male infertility tests done at the start can help you save stress, time, and money if you’re trying to conceive. Here’s what you can expect.
The importance of male infertility tests
For men, infertility may arise due to a number of different factors, each of which requires a different treatment method. Some of those treatment methods are simple fixes, like lifestyle changes, supplementation, or minor procedures. Identified early, these issues can be easily fixed so you can continue trying to conceive.
While other male infertility causes are more complex to treat, knowing the underlying reason for your challenges can help your doctor pinpoint treatments that could help.
At The Fertility Institute of New Orleans, our team always takes the time to examine fertility challenges from multiple angles. A range of tests typically must be performed to determine the underlying cause of your fertility challenges. If you’re visiting our clinic, these are the more common male infertility tests you can expect to take.
1. A physical exam and health history
A physical exam is often the best first step. It helps your doctor identify potential problems, and can be used as a stepping stone for additional testing methods.
By checking for visible abnormalities and having a frank discussion with you about your medical history and lifestyle habits, your doctor can begin to theorize possible reasons for infertility and order additional tests.
Some of the more common lifestyle factors that can lead to infertility include:
- Excessive drug or alcohol use
- The use of certain medications
- Exposure to different toxins or chemicals
- Overheated testicles, due to holding a laptop, excessive sauna use, or tight underwear
- Chronic stress
- Excess body fat
Your fertility specialist can identify potential issues and give suggestions for reducing the impact of these lifestyle factors.
Further, one of the most common reasons for male infertility, and one that can be identified through an exam, is the presence of varicoceles. Varicoceles are an enlargement of the veins that circulate blood from the testicles and regulate their temperature. If these veins are impeded in their function, infertility can arise from abnormally high testicular temperature. If your doctor suspects varicoceles are leading to issues, they’ll order an MRI, X-ray, or ultrasound to more accurately detect them.
2. Semen analysis
A comprehensive semen analysis with sperm morphology is the one of the primary and often most important male infertility tests. By evaluating one or more semen samples, a technician can determine problems in any of the following areas:
- Sperm count: A low sperm count may be the result of numerous factors, but it ultimately accounts for a large percentage of male infertility cases. If a semen sample contains under 20 million sperm cells per milliliter, the sperm count is considered low.
- Sperm motility: In order for sperm to fertilize an egg, they must be able to move forward in a normal, efficient manner. Motility measures how many sperm have effective forward motion. Generally, 50% or more sperm should have normal motility.
- Sperm morphology: Morphology refers to the shape of a cell or organism. Even in healthy, fertile patients, most sperm will actually have abnormally shaped heads or tails. This makes them unsuitable for fertilization. Ideal numbers for normally shaped sperm range from 15-30%, but numbers as low as 4% can still indicate a good chance of fertilization, if all other factors are positive.
- Semen volume: The amount of semen per sample can indicate the presence of other problems. For example, abnormally low semen volume (below 1.5 milliliters) may indicate blockage, whereas high volume may be a result of inflammation.
Additionally, a semen analysis will evaluate factors such as pH level, fructose level, liquefaction time, sperm vitality, and white blood cell count. Although these measurements are not usually as telling as those listed above, together they help indicate any potential problems behind infertility.
You can learn more about a semen analysis, and how to prepare for one, in our longer post on the topic here.
Next, your doctor may also order a urinalysis, or a test of your urine.
For example, if a semen analysis shows a high white blood cell count, a urinalysis may follow to test for additional white blood cells and antibodies. If these results are abnormally high, it could indicate an infection or inflammation. If sperm cells are present within the urine, it could point to retrograde ejaculation. This is a condition in which semen travels backward toward the bladder.
4. Other male infertility tests
Your doctor may also order blood tests. As The American Society for Reproductive Medicine explains, these can help measure the presence of hormones in your blood that impact fertility, such as testosterone and prolactin.
The American Pregnancy Association discusses some of the less common male infertility tests as well. From tests that determine sperm capability to penetrate the egg to those that identify damage in the reproductive system, these tests may be ordered if your doctor suspects an issue.
Learn more about male infertility tests
Before undergoing any fertility treatment, it’s necessary for both partners to undergo fertility tests. If you’re in Louisiana or our neighboring states, we encourage you to reach out to The Fertility Institute for more information.
Our team can discuss each of the tests you can expect to take in more detail. They’ll then discuss any fertility treatments that could help you and your partner conceive, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Schedule your initial consultation and exam today to learn more!