Infertility is often thought of as a female disorder, but there are plenty of times when a couple’s inability to have a child cannot be traced to the mother—instead it is due to a medical problem with the father. Over one-third of infertile couples experience a problem with the semen or the sperm. Thus, a semen analysis is among the first laboratory tests done to identify this problem.
The analysis of semen, whose parameters usually comprise volume, sperm count, motility and other commonly known characteristics, is also useful for assessing sperm health, which is useful for in-vitro fertilization, or IVF. Here are several procedures that constitute advanced semen analysis:
Sperm Agglutination: This microscopic examination is done to check for any clumping of sperm cells. Agglutinated sperm tend to become attached to each other at both ends, with attached heads or tails. This causes them to have difficulty swimming through the cervical mucus plug that leads to the woman’s uterus. If sperm cannot cross the mucus plug, they would not get to the ovum, and fertilization does not happen. Sperm agglutination can be seen in men with inflammation, hypersensitivity or allergy, or infection.
Hypo-Osmotic Swelling: This examination determines the health of the tails of the sperm cells, thus assess the ability of the sperm to penetrate an egg. Sperm cells are immersed in a solution of sugar and salt. As a result, tails of healthy sperm become swollen. Unhealthy or dead sperm do not undergo this change.
Hemizona Assay: For this examination, a human egg cell is bisected, and the sperm cells must breach the outer layer. This layer is the most difficult for sperm cells to penetrate. The sperm cells that pass through successfully are counted. Fertilization does not occur in this examination, since only half of the egg is used.
Acrosome Test: The acrosome reaction is a cascade of chemical events that take place when a sperm cell comes in contact with an egg. This allows the sperm cells to dissolve the tough outer layer of the ovum in order to pass through.
Sperm Morphology: The 2010 WHO criteria state that a normal sample would have 4 percent or more sperm with a normal morphology. Among the features of abnormal sperm include condensed acrosome, anomalies in head size, doubled heads, doubled tails, or an abnormal middle piece.
By correlating the results of these examinations, clinicians are able to identify any issues in sperm shape and function, and can determine whether IVF is a viable option for couples having difficulty in conceiving.