What Is Abnormal Sperm Morphology?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Sperm morphology is a term that refers to the shape and size of a man’s sperm cells. Abnormal sperm morphology is the term used when a man’s sperm does not fit the expected description, whether the abnormal characteristic is size, shape or features. When such abnormalities exist, a man may have a much harder time impregnating a woman and, if conception does occur, then the expectant mother may face an increased risk of miscarrying.

A sperm cell.
A sperm cell.

Doctors often evaluate sperm morphology during male fertility testing, a step typically taken when a couple has been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a long period of time. A sperm analysis usually evaluates the number of sperm present in the semen and their movement, both of which are important in achieving success at fertilizing an egg. Often, however, doctors also check the size and shape of the sperm and, when a high percentage of a man’s sperm are misshapen or of an odd size, this is referred to as abnormal morphology.

Hot tubs and baths lessen the life of sperm.
Hot tubs and baths lessen the life of sperm.

People who are trying to conceive tend to be concerned or upset about abnormal sperm morphology, primarily because an abnormality in this area can affect a couple’s chances of conceiving a child and eventually celebrating a live birth. There is, however, often no cause for panic. All men have some level of abnormal morphology and most can still help begin a healthy pregnancy. Conception problems occur when most, rather than just a few, of the sperm in a man’s semen have this issue. Even then, however, there is still a chance that the affected man can father a healthy child.

Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.

Though one sample of semen with a high percentage of abnormal sperm morphology can prove troubling, it doesn’t always mean the issue will continue. In some cases doctors call for a repeat sperm analysis a month or two later and find an entirely different situation. A man’s sperm morphology sometimes improves on it own after this short period of time. If it does not improve, then a doctor may begin to evaluate the patient for underlying causes, such as infections and scrotum abnormalities.

One semen sample with a high percentage of abnormal sperm morphology may be troubling.
One semen sample with a high percentage of abnormal sperm morphology may be troubling.

If doctors cannot pinpoint the underlying problem that has caused abnormal sperm morphology, then there isn’t much they can do to correct it. As of 2011, there is no medical treatment considered effective for changing the size and shape of a man's sperm. When a man receives a diagnosis of abnormal sperm morphology, he will usually have to hope for his sperm to improve on its own or choose another method of conceiving a child, such as donor sperm.

Abnormal sperm morphology may result in difficulty achieving pregnancy.
Abnormal sperm morphology may result in difficulty achieving pregnancy.
A man who suspects that he may have misshapen sperm may only feel comfortable discussing the issue with a male doctor.
A man who suspects that he may have misshapen sperm may only feel comfortable discussing the issue with a male doctor.
All men have some level of abnormal morphology and can still help begin a healthy pregnancy.
All men have some level of abnormal morphology and can still help begin a healthy pregnancy.
Obesity may affect a man's sperm count.
Obesity may affect a man's sperm count.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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