What Is Sperm DNA Fragmentation?

What is the sperm DNA fragmentation test?
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ByLaurence A. Jacobs, MD, reproductive endocrinologist, Fertility Centers of Illinois
Fertility Specialist
Feb 2017
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Your guy might like to think that all his swimmers are winners, but unfortunately, there’s a possibility he’s got some duds in the crowd. A sperm DNA fragmentation test can tell your doctor whether there’s any DNA damage to be found among your partner’s sperm. That’s important because if there is significant damage, it may be difficult for you to conceive with his sperm.

With the fragmentation test, a scientist will look at the cells themselves to determine what percentage of sperm have fragmentation, which basically means “damage.” Less than 15 percent damage usually means a very good outcome, while 16 to 29 percent can mean a less rosy outlook, though still pretty good. If more than 30 percent of the sperm show fragmentation, it may prove very difficult to get and maintain a healthy pregnancy, even if you are doing IVF.

The sperm DNA fragmentation test is not part of a normal sperm workup, which typically looks for things like the number, motility (how well sperm swim) and morphology (their size and shape). Unfortunately, even if all those read as normal, there can still be some DNA damage. If you’ve been able to get pregnant but have had a number of unexplained miscarriages, or if you’ve been having difficulties getting pregnant but all your lab work has checked out, it may be worth speaking with your doctor about getting this test for your partner.

DNA damage can increase with age, so a man in his 50s or 60s may have a higher percentage of sperm fragmentation than someone in his 20s. Other factors — such as exposure to various chemicals or toxic agents, excessive heat, chronic infections in the prostate, chemotherapy, radiation or smoking — can also be to blame. On the positive side, there’s some hope that antioxidant vitamins can help minimize the damage. Some doctors also recommend drawing sperm directly from the testicle with a needle, rather than getting it the old-fashioned way. Not quite as fun, but more likely to get you pregnant.

Plus, more from The Bump:

Can Hot Water Harm Sperm?

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