With home fertility testing kits becoming increasingly popular, it is important to understand their benefits and limitations. Here's when to opt for an at-home sperm test and when you should reach out to a fertility expert for a full semen analysis.
In this article:
- Are at-home sperm tests accurate?
- How do at-home male fertility tests work?
- What issues can at-home male fertility tests uncover?
- Working with a Fertility Doctor
- What to Expect From a Semen Analysis
- How much does a semen analysis cost?
- What causes male infertility?
- Male Infertility Treatment Options
- When to See a Fertility Expert
Are at-home sperm tests accurate?
At-home sperm tests can be accurate for what they measure, such as a minimum level of sperm, but no at-home test can assess all of the various factors that can affect male fertility.
A comprehensive semen analysis will provide much more accurate information.
Here's why: No at-home male fertility test can calculate the total number of swimming sperm available within a semen sample, which is more important than any individual measurement of numbers or motility. Additionally, the shape of the sperm can affect how fertilization occurs, and there are no at-home tests that can evaluate sperm morphology.
Only a trained andrologist (male fertility professional) can perform a full semen analysis.
Should you consult a fertility specialist instead?
If a couple is experiencing infertility (typically defined as 6 to 12 months of unsuccessful attempts to conceive, depending on age), a formal semen analysis should be obtained for an accurate assessment of male fertility.
The good news: Most semen analyses can be performed on sperm samples produced at home and dropped off at a fertility clinic or laboratory, so the comfort level of an "at home" test can still be maintained with most formal male fertility evaluations.
How do at-home male fertility tests work?
All at-home male fertility tests evaluate a semen sample directly.
There are various types of tests, the simplest of which (i.e. SpermCheck) measures only the concentration of sperm cells. A colored line is generated on the test which is either positive or negative for this minimal amount of sperm.
More advanced home tests, like YO, use cell phones or computers to capture sperm videos for an assessment of both the concentration and motility of the sperm. These are more expensive tests and sometimes more complicated to use.
Understandably, the convenience and privacy of at-home fertility tests make this form of fertility evaluation more appealing to many men. However, at-home sperm tests do have their limitations. Let's talk about what they can (and can't) tell us.
What issues can at-home male fertility tests uncover?
Male fertility testing kits are a simple way to identify if there is a severely low sperm count which would require follow-up with a more formal semen analysis.
But while at-home sperm tests can screen for some common fertility issues, they don’t provide a complete analysis and cannot diagnose the underlying cause of any potential problems.
At-home male fertility tests can be less expensive than a formal semen analysis, but they should not replace a more comprehensive, accurate assessment if a couple is having trouble conceiving. In contrast, a complete semen analysis looks at many other factors that can affect male fertility in addition to sperm count.
Working with a Fertility Doctor
If you have been trying to conceive without success for more than 6 to 12 months, have underlying health issues or simply want to get a full and complete picture of your baseline fertility, find a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and schedule a consultation.
Your doctor will then discuss any concerns with you before proceeding with a fertility assessment. Let's break down everything a semen analysis entails so you know exactly what to expect.
Note: While the following information is specific to Illume Fertility, the experience at most other fertility clinics should be similar.
What to Expect From a Semen Analysis
After arriving to your appointment, the front desk team will check you in and guide you through any necessary paperwork. One of the andrologists will then bring you back to an andrology area, which is private and isolated from the rest of clinic.
The laboratory wing of our practice has individual patient rooms where we will provide you with all the necessary materials to collect a sperm sample. This provides each patient with the privacy they need, while also making it convenient to pass samples directly to an Andrology Lab team member upon completion.
Your andrologist will provide instructions and answer any questions you have.
How much does a semen analysis cost?
The cost of a semen analysis really depends on your insurance coverage. If your insurance does not cover any part of the analysis, your Insurance & Billing Advocate will discuss out-of-pocket pricing with you, which is typically around $160 without insurance.
What causes male infertility?
Infections, high fever, congenital testicular abnormalities, previous surgeries, varicocele (enlarged veins in the scrotum) and drug use can all impact sperm health and the functioning of the male reproductive system.
Keep in mind, both morphology and motility are factors in male infertility because they impair the sperm’s ability to reach and fertilize an egg.
Morphology refers to the size, shape and appearance of the sperm.
Motility refers to the ability of sperm to move efficiently and properly.
Male Infertility Treatment Options
For some men, treating an infection, undergoing varicocele repair or hormone replacement therapy can resolve the problem. In more complex cases, assisted reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) can help overcome male fertility issues and help a couple achieve pregnancy.
If sperm abnormalities are detected, the semen analysis can be repeated in four to six weeks to determine if they are permanent or temporary. If the semen analysis is normal, your doctor will probably recommend a thorough testing of your female partner (if applicable) before considering additional male fertility tests.
Note: If discernible cause is discovered, a couple may be diagnosed with unexplained infertility, and there are still many treatment options available to help!
When to See a Fertility Expert
If you are at the beginning of your trying to conceive journey (or have difficulty accessing fertility care) and simply want a quick, easy and cost-effective screening test, at-home sperm tests can be a good place to start.
However, any abnormal test results or an extended period of infertility should prompt further evaluation by a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist. Also, keep in mind that false positives and false negatives (as well as user error) can occur with at-home tests, making them less reliable than formal testing.
The bottom line? At-home sperm tests should never replace a comprehensive male fertility evaluation if you are experiencing difficulty conceiving.
If you're unsure about where to start, we encourage you to reach out to our experienced team of men's fertility experts for personalized guidance about what your next steps should be.
Dr. Spencer Richlin is Surgical Director and Partner in reproductive endocrinology at Illume Fertility. In addition, he is Division Chief of Reproductive Endocrinology at Norwalk Hospital. Dr. Richlin is board certified in both Reproductive Endocrinology and Obstetrics & Gynecology. He joined the team at Illume Fertility in 2004.