Low sperm morphology (shape and physical appearance of sperm) is not something you want to hear after a semen analysis, however it happens more often than you might think.
It is quite common for fertile men to have a low percentage of ideally shaped sperm; however, when the proportion of ideally shaped sperm is less than 4% of the total sperm – the chance of being fertile is lower, particularly if there are no ideally shaped sperm present. It’s important to note that having sperm that are not an ideal shape is not linked with problems in the baby if the man becomes a father. Defects in the shape of the sperm heads or tails can affect movement and the sperm’s ability to bind to and fertilise an egg. When checked using correct World Health Organisation (WHO) methods, the morphology result is a marker of sperm function, that is, it can indicate the sperm’s chance of fertilising an egg.
Semen Analyses Assesses Your Sperm If you are actively trying to conceive with your partner, a semen analysis is the only way to determine what type of sperm you are producing. Semen analyses are usually only recommended once you have tried to conceive on your own for 12 months. Sperm morphology is just one thing we assess in a semen analysis. We also look at semen volume, pH, the number of sperm in a sample (concentration), how fast the sperm are swimming (motility) and if the sperm are clumping together (usually due to sperm producing antibodies after trauma involving the testicles or certain illnesses). Once we have all of these values, we can recommend which treatment (if any) is most suitable for the patient.
What Is A Normal-Shaped Sperm? A normal sperm has: A smooth, oval-shaped head that is 5-6 micrometers long and 2.5-3.5 micrometers wide (less than the size of a needle point) A well-defined cap (acrosome) that covers 40% to 70% of the sperm head No visible abnormality of neck, midpiece, or tail No fluid droplets in the sperm head that are bigger than one half of the sperm head size
How Can A Sperm Be Abnormal? Sperm can have multiple defects.
These can affect the head, neck or tail region. Headless Sperm Headless sperm are a major concern as all of the sperm’s genetic material is housed inside the head, therefore if the head is missing from the sperm that penetrates an egg, there will be no fertilisation. The studies so far have shown that headless sperm are due to a genetic defect in the male patient – with the gene Spata6 is responsible. Spata6 is responsible for the creation of the neck, which supports the head of the sperm. If there is a mutation in the gene, the neck is weak and the head of the sperm, even if it is developmentally ok, will fall off. This may not affect all sperm that a man produces, which is why the semen analysis and morphology results are imperative for the determination of a man’s fertility.
Can an abnormally shaped sperm fertilize an egg? Yes, it can. However, having higher amounts of abnormally shaped sperm has been associated with infertility in some studies. Usually, higher numbers of abnormally shaped sperm are associated with other irregularities of the semen such as low sperm count or motility. It is also worth noting that men with abnormally shaped sperm may also have no trouble causing a pregnancy.
If an abnormally shaped sperm fertilizes the egg, does that mean that my child will have a higher risk of having genetic abnormalities? There’s no relationship between the shape of a sperm and its genetic material. If an abnormally shaped sperm can fertilize an egg, why does the morphology matter? Couples where the male partner has high percentages of abnormally shaped sperm tend to have more trouble conceiving a pregnancy. In the case of tail or neck defects, the sperm aren’t able to swim as fast or as straight as a normally shaped sperm. This therefore decreases the chances of the sperm reaching an egg before its energy reserves are exhausted. The head of a sperm is very important as well, as it contains half of the genetic material required to make a baby (the egg has the other half). In the case of head defects, these can affect the quality of the DNA. Another important structure on the head of the sperm is the acrosomal region. It helps the sperm and egg to initially join and therefore needs to be the right size for this to occur effectively.
Is there anything I can do to improve the shape of my sperm? Research has shown a relationship between abnormal sperm shape and tobacco, alcohol and caffeine use. While you are trying for a pregnancy, you should not use tobacco or recreational drugs and you should limit your consumption of alcohol and caffeine. These substances may hurt sperm DNA (material that carries your genes) quality. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight and ensure you are eating a balanced diet, as this also has an effect on sperm. We recommend taking Menevit, as it has been shown to improve reproductive health. Remember, that it may take up to 3 months for any changes in diet and lifestyle to become noticeable in sperm samples. Sometimes changes (such as DNA integrity) cannot be assessed with a routine semen analysis. This instead may be evident in tests which look at sperm DNA, such as a sperm chromatin structure assay (SCSA) or Halosperm test. It takes two to tango! In addition to semen quality, other factors that can affect the couple’s chance of getting pregnant include the couple’s frequency and timing of sex, the length of time the couple has tried to get pregnant, and the age and fertility of the female partner. A man’s semen analysis needs to be used together with other clinical information by the doctor.
The most important thing is to take the time to consult with doctors who understand your situation and who are willing to work with you so that you are making an informed decision. We have published our most recent success rates and welcome your questions at 1300 FERTILITY.
If you would like to get started, we offer a free consultation where you can get all of your questions answered and see if fertility treatment is right for you. http://www.fssc.com.au/understanding-ivf-treatment-success-rates/ – See more at: http://www.fssc.com.au/understanding-ivf-treatment-success-rates/#sthash.zoyCz4zS.dpuf
The thoughts of this blog are of the individual writer and not necessarily those of the Nurses for Nurses Network. To read our full disclaimer click here >>