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Male infertility is the number one single cause of infertility among most couples and it is largely due to abnormal sperm. There are several problems with a man’s sperm that can affect his fertility, such as low sperm count, low sperm motility, and abnormal sperm shape.

Some experts suggest that over half of all male infertility is due to a low sperm count.

The most common one, low sperm count, is the one that is most often discussed, and with good reason. Some experts suggest that over half of all male infertility is due to a low sperm count.

However, there are other types of sperm problems that can interfere with pregnancy, including low sperm motility (movement) and abnormal sperm.

What is abnormal sperm?

Another way to describe the shape of sperm is “sperm morphology.” It’s one of the three things a fertility specialist will be looking at when sperm is analyzed. Fertility specialists track morphology in terms of a percentage and report what percentage of sperm appears to be normal when looked at through a microscope.

You’ve probably seen depictions of a normal sperm. A normal sperm has an oval-shaped head and a long, winding tail. An abnormal sperm will look differently. It may have an abnormally shaped head, crooked tail, two tails or an extra large head. Any of these conditions can become a problem for egg fertilization.

It’s not uncommon to have many abnormal sperm. In fact, sperm is considered normal as long as 4% or more are “morphologically normal.” The rest of the sperm can be defective, as long as there are a few swimmers that really know what they’re doing.

What role do genes play?

Abnormal sperm can be caused by a number of factors but the most common are age and genetics. As a man ages, sperm tend to have a higher number of genetic abnormalities. It’s more likely for a man in his 50s to have a high number of abnormal sperm than it is for a man in his 20s, for example.

Exposure to heavy metals, radiation, and even certain nutrients can also affect your sperm. These can cause a low sperm count, problems with motility as well as abnormal sperm. Abnormal sperm can also be caused by infection, fever, alcohol consumption, smoking, and certain medical abnormalities like a varicocele or a congenital testicular defect.

What can you do about abnormal sperm?

Abnormal sperm is often only one of multiple issues causing a couple to have fertility problems. Many men who have abnormal sperm also have a low sperm count or low sperm motility, and in those instances, all of the problems must be addressed.

For some men, the cause of the abnormal sperm can be treated. If the sperm are abnormal due to an infection, an antibiotic may be able to clear things up. If it’s a congenital testicular defect, the issue is harder to correct.

In most cases, an aggressive fertility treatment approach is necessary to help a man with abnormal sperm. You and your partner may also need to consider advanced treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer.

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