What Does Morphology Mean When Referring To Sperm?

It sounds like some kind of cartooning style – morphology. However, couples who are trying to conceive know it as a highly technical term that has much to do with their chances of conception.

Morphology refers to the percentage of sperm in a semen sample, that appear to have formed normally. An abnormal sample contains sperm that have doubled, kinked or coiled tails and the fact is that the greater the number of sperm of a misshapen shape, the less chance of successful fertilization.

When a couple are having difficulty conceiving over an extended period of time, one of the first tests to be carried out is on the male’s semen to determine sperm quantity, concentration, shape and motility (how well the sperm swim). Testing the male is usually far simpler and less invasive than testing the female because it is physically easier for a man to produce a specimen. The sample is sent off to the lab where the testing is carried out and the doctor will receive a report based on the above criteria. In addition to those factors, he will also be informed as to the volume of semen the man produces in a single ejaculation and whether or not he is carrying some kind of infection, by the analysis of red and white blood cells.

The results of the sperm morphology exam are provided as a percentage, explaining how many of the sperm appear normal and how many are abnormal. A sample will always contain some abnormal sperm but the higher the percentage of those, the less successful the chances for conception.

According to WHO (the World Health Organization), semen of quality viable for fertilization contains 60% normal sperm morphology, meaning even a sample containing 40% abnormal sperm is still considered to be within normal parameters.

Reproduction being such an awesome thing, when you consider that a man produces between ten and fifty million new sperm per day, it seems fair that not every model off the production line is perfectly formed. Some environmental and lifestyle factors can have an effect on the formation of sperm, however. Lead, for instance, has been linked to decreased motility of sperm. In cigarette smokers, the incidence of abnormal morphology is higher. Exposure to organic solvents, and excessive heat to the scrotal region are known to result in coiled tails.

If a man’s semen sample indicates that his sperm morphology is less than favourable for fertilization, he should examine his lifestyle and also the environments in which he works and lives. A doctor will be able to assist with these considerations.

If, however, the man’s sperm morphology produces a report that shows he passed with flying colors, then tests will focus on the woman’s reproductive system.


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