Examining sperm for IVF with ICSI
When couples can't seem to achieve pregnancy it's generally assumed that the woman has some type of fertility issue. What many people don't realise is that male factor infertility accounts for about 40 per cent of cases in infertile couples. Being diagnosed with male factor infertility, such as low sperm motility, can feel like a devastating blow. The good news is that there are ways to treat low motility.
Upon ejaculation sperm travel through the vagina, past the cervix and up into the Fallopian tubes. The hope for couples wanting to achieve pregnancy is that once there the sperm will meet up with an egg and fertilisation will occur. While this sounds simple, it's anything but. The sperm must be able to quickly swim in a forward direction and have the sustained endurance to make the long journey up to the waiting egg. For some men this delicate balance is upset if the sperm swim too slowly or in the wrong direction. The speed and direction that sperm move is referred to as motility. A semen analysis in which greater than 50 per cent of sperm are motile and moving forward is considered normal.
A urologist will order tests to rule out medical conditions that can cause motility issues, such as a genetic disorder, a varicocele (varicose vein in the scrotum) or a hormonal imbalance. He will also ask you a comprehensive set of health-related questions, such as have you ever had the mumps or a testicular injury, as well as questions about your diet and lifestyle. He will likely order a semen analysis and recommend you have another one in about three months, as that's approximately the time it takes your body to create new sperm. During that three-month interval he might suggest you take supplements or go through other treatments that could help with sperm motility.
Health and Lifestyle
While there is no definitive "cure" for low motility, some men find that dietary and lifestyle changes can be helpful. Stress, smoking and alcohol can contribute to poor sperm health. So can excessive exercise that puts stress and heat on the testicles and scrotum, such as too much biking or too much time in the spa or hot tub. Taking supplements and consuming foods rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, zinc, Vitamin E, selenium and L-carnitine might prove beneficial. In fact, a study in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility in 2004 reported that sperm motility can be increased with combined L-carnitine and L-acetyl-carnitine therapy. Some men also benefit from alternative treatments such as acupuncture.
Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation with intra cytoplasmic sperm injection (IVF with ICSI) have proven to help with sperm motility issues. In the case of IUI the sperm are directly deposited by a special device into the uterus, where they have a better chance of swimming up into the Fallopian tubes. An even more successful method is IVF with ICSI, where a sperm is literally handpicked to be injected into the egg waiting in a petri dish. Speed and movement of sperm have no bearing on IVF with ICSI, so this tends to be where most couples find the highest potential for success.