If you suspect you are experiencing infertility in your quest to have a child, the best way to get the answers you need is through fertility testing. Infertility is identified as the inability to become pregnant after one year of carefully timed, unprotected intercourse. The duration of attempting to conceive for women over the age of 35 is 6 months. The main, and often only, symptom of infertility is the inability to become pregnant, which is why fertility testing is very important, for both women and men, when infertility is suspected.
Why Fertility Testing is Necessary
There are several factors, or combinations of factors, that cause infertility. The majority of couples will eventually conceive a healthy child with the intervention of advanced reproductive technology, such as IVF. Underlying conditions of all kinds impact fertility in both men and women and medical intervention significantly improves the odds of becoming pregnant. But, first and foremost, fertility testing is necessary.
- Facts About Male Infertility and Testing
It’s often easy to imagine infertility as the woman’s issue, but the truth is it can be the man, the woman, a combination, or, what is frustratingly recognized as “unexplained infertility”. The breakdown of infertility is like this: 35% male factor, 35% female factor, 20% combination, and 10% unexplained. The course to treating infertility begins with testing both partners.
- The Biology of Conception (His Part)
In order to impregnate his partner, a man must produce, and ejaculate, a normal amount of sperm. The average amount considered “normal” is 15 million sperm per milliliter. The sperm must then propel themselves into the woman’s cervix, and from there, into her fallopian tubes. Sperm can live up to 2-3 days in the fallopian tubes waiting to fertilize an egg. This is why a normal count, strong motility, and healthy, living sperm are essential to pregnancy.
- What Causes Infertility in Men?
There are many conditions which result in compromised fertility in men. These issues stem from physical causes, hormonal imbalances, chronic illness, autoimmune conditions, genetic problems, side effects of a medication, or even a prior infection. Benign growths, STI’s and sexual dysfunction can play a big role in preventing the delivery of semen to the vagina. Fortunately testing helps your physician yield a treatment plan to overcome infertility.
- The First Step: Collecting the Sample
Sperm must be collected with 2-7 days of abstinence and examined within a few hours. Less than 2 days of abstinence may result in lower numbers and longer periods may lower motility and morphology. Sperm ideally should be collected in a sterile cup and attention should be paid to collecting the entire ejaculate. Don’t miss the cup!
- The Semen Analysis
Male testing for infertility begins with a semen analysis. After producing ejaculate, the sample is evaluated for volume, sperm count (the number of sperm per milliliter), motility (life and movement of the sperm), and shape. It’s important to evaluate all aspects of the sperm as low sperm count and motility aren’t always an indication of infertility. It may be more difficult for pregnancy to occur, but not impossible.
- You Must Abstain Before Your Sample
It seems contrary to your efforts to become pregnant, but prior to your semen sample you will need to abstain from sex. The reason being, even though sperm is replenished regularly, engaging in sex for any consecutive days may give a false reading of a low sperm count. It’s not advised to wait longer than 7 days however. This can result in a false readings.
- Where You’ll Go From Here
Depending on what the semen analysis shows, there are a few different directions from here. Additional testing may be required. Some of the more common causes of male infertility, aside from low sperm count or motility, are:
- Genetic testing can help to identify certain genetic mutations which cause chromosomal impairments that prevent pregnancy.
- Retrograde ejaculation occurs when the sperm backs into the bladder, typically the result of a prior surgery.
- Obstructions can block the sperm from exiting the body, and can be caused by a number of things.
- Abnormal DNA fragmentation of sperm. This can be a significant issue as the quality of the sperm is as important as the quantity, if not more.
Testing and Treatment Can Take a Toll
No matter the cause of your infertility, it can be hard on your relationship. Awaiting the results of the testing is stressful enough, but once treatment begins life becomes even more stressful for many couples.
Infertility can have a profound impact on your relationship so it is advisable to let your doctor, or a member of your fertility team, know if you experience difficulties. Your doctor will advise you on the best ways to overcome the stress of infertility testing, and treatment, so you and your partner are happily ready to welcome a child when the day arrives.