Abnormal Sperm Morphology: Causes, Treatments and Prevention

Graphic of doctor standing next to abnormal sperm morphology chart.

What is Abnormal Sperm Morphology?

The size and shape of the sperm (called sperm morphology) is an important factor in determining male fertility. Sperm that are normally-shaped have an oval head and a long tail.

However, abnormal sperm morphology occurs when sperm possess certain defects in shape or size, such as a head that is too large, too small, or misshapen, or with double, crooked, or coiled tails. These irregularities could affect the sperm’s ability to reach and penetrate an egg.

Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to have a high percentage of sperm that are deformed. The majority of sperm from a given semen sample are abnormal – in fact, only 4-10% of them will be in the normal range.

What Qualifies As Normal-Shaped Sperm?

Normal sperm have the following characteristics:

  • A smooth oval-shaped head measuring 5 to 6 micrometers in length, and 2.5 to 3.5 micrometers in width (smaller than the tip of a needle).
  • A distinctly-formed cap (acrosome) covering between 40-70% of the sperm head.
  • There is no apparent abnormality in the tail, midpiece or neck.
  • The sperm head does not contain fluid droplets that are larger than half the size of the sperm head.

How Does Abnormal Sperm Morphology Affect Fertility?

Most male fertility experts will tell you that it is not known what importance sperm morphology has in predicting a successful pregnancy. Indeed, it is not considered a reliable predictor of infertility unless almost 100% of the sperm are abnormal.

Additionally, a semen analysis indicating abnormal sperm morphology does not necessarily mean you’re infertile. Although it might take a little longer, you can still conceive a child with low scores from a semen analysis.

Keep in mind that if you and your partner can’t have children through sexual intercourse, assisted reproduction technology like IVF (in vitro fertilization) may also be an alternative.

Diagram depicting numerous forms of abnormal sperm morphology.
The various types of abnormal sperm morphology.

Can A Sperm with an Abnormal Shape Fertilize an Egg?

Yes, even though a sperm may exhibit abnormal morphology, it can still potentially reach and fertilize an egg. That said, some studies have shown that infertility in men can be caused by having larger amounts of abnormally-shaped sperm.

Producing greater numbers of abnormally-shaped sperm is typically associated with other semen-related issues, such as a low sperm count or poor motility. However, some men with high amounts of abnormal sperm may still have no problems getting their partner pregnant.

Do Abnormal Sperm Increase the Risk of Birth Defects?

This is currently not known. We do know that there is no apparent relationship between a sperm’s genetic material and its shape. Fertilization is still likely to occur once the sperm reaches the egg.

That said, some abnormalities in sperm structure may be due to genetic problems. This means that male offspring could potentially inherit the same morphology abnormalities possessed by the father.

Is the Shape of Sperm Important to Fertilization?

It is not clear why (or if) a sperm’s shape may be important to fertilization. Although men with atypically shaped sperm can have more difficulty causing pregnancy, it is not possible to know whether this is due to the actual shape of the sperm, or some other factor that affects fertility and also causes defects in sperm shape.

How to Improve Sperm Morphology

Although research has not established a relationship between abnormal sperm shape and the use of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine, some research suggests that smoking might negatively impact fertility.

You should avoid smoking and recreational drugs while you’re trying to conceive, and limit your alcohol intake as well. These substances can affect the quality of your sperm’s genetic material (DNA).

There has not been any evidence linking caffeine intake to changes in sperm morphology. Keep in mind that it may take as much as 3 months for any changes in your sperm to be noticed.

Supplements to Improve Sperm Morphology

Nutritional supplements for male fertility are a popular, less invasive, and less expensive way to improve your sperm morphology compared to medical treatments. Because these supplements are generally safe, effective, and readily available, they are one of the first methods that men use to improve morphology and overall fertility.

Fertility Factor 5 is made with ingredients that have been shown to improve not only morphology, but sperm count and motility as well. Additionally, this supplement boosts total semen volume and supports overall male reproductive health.

Fertility Factor 5 bottle

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