How healthy is your sperm? Getting it tested can help your doctor pinpoint underlying issues with fertility as well as other health concerns.

If you and your spouse are having trouble getting pregnant or if you are experiencing urological problems, the experts at the renowned USC Institute of Urology at Keck Medicine of USC will often order a semen analysis or sperm count test.

A semen analysis evaluates various factors in your sperm to evaluate your sexual health. It is common for the results to fluctuate daily, so your doctor may order a series of tests, usually over a couple months, to develop a baseline understanding of your health.

Even if your analysis comes back abnormal, there are plenty of remedies that doctors can use to correct your condition and help you become fertile.

Preparing for your test

For the best results, there are several things to avoid before your test. These include:

  • Ejaculation for 48-72 hours before the test
  • Alcohol, drugs and caffeine up to five days before the test
  • Hormone and other medications as ordered by your doctor
  • Over-the-counter medicines and any herbal remedies

Getting a good semen sample

The first step is collecting a semen sample. Having sex using a condom and masturbation are the two most common ways.

Seal the sample immediately to avoid contamination and record the time of collection. Finally, keep your semen at body temperature and transport it to the testing facility within 30 to 60 minutes after ejaculation.

Normal test results

There are several factors that determine whether your results are normal. Sperm volume, shape, appearance, count, movement and pH will all be measured as well as your white blood cell count.

Your doctor will look at each factor before making a diagnosis. If your test comes back normal yet you continue to have problems, additional tests will be ordered, such as anti-sperm immune cells tests, genetic tests, hormone testing or a tissue sample from your testicles.

Abnormal results

Before you get disheartened, keep in mind that the “normal range” for semen quality varies widely. Your doctor might order one or more additional tests to confirm the results.

Additionally, there are several reasons your test could be abnormal. Besides drug inference, your analysis can be tainted by spermicide, taking the test when you are sick, lab error and sample contamination.

However, if none of these occurred and you still have an abnormal result, your doctor may diagnose you with infertility, a genetic defect, exposure to radiation, hormone imbalance, infection, or a disease such as cancer or diabetes.

Mary Samplaski, MD, assistant professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, says that while semen analysis remains the “gold standard” of testing for male infertility, it is also an “imprecise measure of male fertility potential with significant fluctuations and overlapping values between groups of fertile and infertile men.”

Don’t be shy: Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about the test or your results.

If you are suffering from infertility or have other urological concerns, make an appointment with one of the specialists at the USC Institute of Urology at Keck Medicine at USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting http://urology.keckmedicine.org/patient-information/request-an-appointment/.

By Heidi Tyline King