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Semen analysis

Semen analysis is a test to measure the amount and quality of a man's semen and sperm. Semen is the thick, white fluid released during ejaculation. It contains sperm.

This test is sometimes called a sperm count.

Alternative Names

Male fertility test; Sperm count

How the test is performed

You will need to provide a semen sample. Your health care provider will explain how to collect a sample.

Sperm release pathway
Sperm release pathway

A semen sample may be collected:

  • During masturbation, into a sterile jar or cup
  • During intercourse by using a special condom given to you by your doctor or nurse

You should get the sample to the lab within 30 minutes. A laboratory specialist must look at the sample within 2 hours of the collection. The earlier the sample is analyzed, the more reliable the results. The following things will be evaluated:

  • How the semen thickens into a solid and turns to liquid
  • Fluid thickness, acidity, and sugar content
  • Resistance to flow (viscosity)
  • Movement of the sperm (motility) 
  • Number and structure of the sperm
  • Volume of semen

How to prepare for the test

Do not have any sexual activity that causes ejaculation for 2 - 3 days before the test.

How the test will feel

If you are uncomfortable about how the sample is to be taken, discuss it with your health care provider.

Why the test is performed

Semen analysis is one of the first tests done to evaluate a man's fertility. It can help determine if a problem in sperm production or quality of the sperm is causing infertility . Approximately half of couples unable to have children have a male infertility problem.

The test may also be used after a vasectomy to make sure there are no sperm in the semen. This can confirm the success of the vasectomy.

The test may also be performed for the following condition:

Normal Values

A few of the common normal values are listed below.

  • The normal volume varies from 1.5 to 5.0 milliliter per ejaculation.
  • The sperm count varies from 20 to 150 million sperm per milliliter.
  • At least 60% of the sperm should have a normal shape and show normal forward movement (motility).

However, how to interpret these values and other results from a semen analysis is not completely certain.

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may suggest a male infertility problem. For example, if the sperm count is very low or very high, there is a likelihood of being less fertile. The acidity of the semen and the presence of white blood cells (suggesting infection) may influence fertility. Testing may reveal abnormal shapes or abnormal movements of the sperm.

However, there are many unknowns in male infertility. The results from the test may fail to explain the cause. If a low sperm count or abnormal semen is found, further testing may be required.

Many of these abnormalities are reversible or treatable.

What the risks are

There are no risks.

Special considerations

The use of the following may affect a man's fertility:

  • Alcohol
  • Many recreational and prescription drugs
  • Tobacco

References

Sabanegh E, Agarwal A. Male infertility. In: Wein AJ, ed.Campbell-Walsh Urology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 21. 

Updated: 4/16/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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