Sperm analysis is the initial test for evaluation of male fertility. Components of sperm analysis include volume, count (concentration), movement and shape of sperm cells.
Normal Sperm Analysis
Sperm volume: the total amount of fluid produced. Commonly 1.5 mL or more.
Sperm count: number of sperm in each mL of fluid. Normal concentration is 15 to 20million per mL. Total count= volume x concentration (count).
Sperm motility: % of sperm with vigorous or moderate movement. Total motile sperm count=volume x concentration x %motility
Sperm morphology: Shape of sperm using strict (Tygerberg, Kruger) criteria 4% normal or more
Lower reference limits for men whose partner conceived within 12 months after stopping use of contraception had the following parameters (WHO manual , 5th ed.) are:
Semen volume (ml) 1.5 (1.4–1.7)
Total sperm number (106 per ejaculate) 39 (33–46)
Sperm concentration (106 per ml) 15 (12–16)
Total motility (PR + NP, %) 40 (38–42)
Progressive motility (PR, %) 32 (31–34)
Vitality (live spermatozoa, %) 58 (55–63)
Sperm morphology (normal forms, %) 4 (3.0–4.0)
All parameters should be interpreted in conjunction with clinical information. If abnormal it can be repeated in 2 to 3 months.
How much sperm is enough?
Evaluation of male fertility through sperm analysis is complex. Clinical factors in history and examination should be considered. Total sperm count in the specimen is an important factor e.g low sperm morphology in specimen of 200 million sperm may have a different effect than low morphology in a specimen of 30 million sperm. Although there are notable variations in a sperm sample of the same man over time, there is no evidence that repeat evaluation of semen in helpful in managing infertility in a female partner.
Since we have very limited tools (medications, supplements, surgery) to meaningfully improve sperm parameters and fertility, a practical management of fertility due to male factor is:
>10 million motile sperm: suitable for natural conception and IUI
2-10 million motile sperm: suitable for IVF
<2million motile sperm or strict morphology <2% suitable for IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection)
IVF + ICSI is indicated if surgical sperm harvest is needed and some cases or retrograde ejaculation and anti-sperm antibodies.
Can the sperm analysis be improved?
The count, motility and morphology can sometimes be improved (lifestyle modifications, medicine, surgery). Two important tips to consider though
a. In the majority of cases, there is no evidence that this improvement increases the odds of a pregnancy in female partner
b. The delay in treatment is sometimes critical for women with low egg reserve while they wait for their partners to improve there sperm parameters