Sperm DNA Fragmentation: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Graphic depicting sperm DNA fragmentation

Sperm DNA Fragmentation refers to abnormal genetic material present in the sperm. It can result in decreased fertility in men, miscarriage and IVF failure.

For successful fertilization and normal development of the embryo, it is vital that sperm contains sound genetic material. However, a standard semen analysis (which is used to assess sperm for motility, morphology and concentration) is not able to detect DNA fragmentation, as it does not test at the molecular level.

Therefore, a specialized test for analyzing sperm DNA fragmentation is required in order to measure the amount of fragmentation present.

Research has shown that DNA fragmentation of the sperm can cause the following adverse effects:

  • Negatively affects embryonic development.
  • The chances of miscarriage and failed assisted reproductive treatment are greater when a higher level of DNA fragmentation is present.
  • Men with low fertility and abnormal sperm assessments often have higher amounts of fragmentation.
  • However, it is also possible for men with high amounts of sperm DNA fragmentation to have normal sperm parameters.
  • Why Take A Sperm DNA Fragmentation Test?
  • Offers a method for reliably measuring sperm DNA quality, which can be used to assist in recognizing men at risk for low fertility.
  • Gives additional information beyond a standard semen analysis to help with the diagnosis and treatment of male fertility.
  • Offers valuable insight when assessing the likelihood of success with assisted reproductive technologies (ART).

What causes Sperm DNA Fragmentation?

Oxidative stress is the main factor that causes the fragmentation of sperm DNA. Oxidative stress can be linked to any one or combination of the following:

  • Infection
  • Elevated scrotal temperature
  • Smoking, drinking, and recreational drug use
  • Stress and/or anxiety
  • Poor dietary habits
  • Varicoele
  • Fever
  • Occupational or environmental toxins
  • Aging

Can Pregnancy Occur With DNA Fragmentation?

Although the odds are greatly reduced, healthy pregnancies can occur when the male partner has a high amount of fragmented sperm DNA. The outlook for embryos developed from highly-fragmented sperm DNA overall is low, however.

Sperm DNA fragmentation can lead to cellular death, mutations that result in embryo arrest, miscarriage, as well as abnormalities after birth.

However, the younger the woman’s egg, the greater the chance for a healthy pregnancy when fertilization occurs with highly fragmented sperm DNA. This is because an immature ovum (oocyte) is more effective at repairing defective sperm DNA.

Who Should Take A Sperm DNA Fragmentation Test?

If you and/or your partner have experienced any of the following signs and symptoms, it might be a good idea to consider testing for sperm DNA fragmentation:

  • You have infertility that is not explained
  • You and your partner have had multiple failed ART treatments.
  • Your partner has had two or more miscarriages.
  • Embryo arrest (the embryo stops developing) or poor embryo development
  • You are at a more advanced age.
  • You have a varicocele.
  • Your semen analysis showed poor results.
  • You have had prolonged exposure to toxins.

Sperm DNA Fragmentation Treatment

Treatment depends upon the reason for the fragmentation. If the DNA fragmentation is due to oxidative stress caused by free radicals, it may be possible to decrease the amount of damage by adopting a healthier lifestyle and diet.

Some of the most common forms of treatment are:

  • Taking antibiotics to treat any infection.
  • Changes in lifestyle by avoiding recreational drugs, smoking, and occupational exposure to toxins.
  • Adopting a healthy diet consisting of fresh foods, especially those rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E.
  • If you have a varicocoele, get surgery to have it treated.
  • Testicular sperm retrieval. Since the majority of DNA damage in sperm is caused when it’s being transported from the testicle during ejaculation, retrieving sperm directly from the testicle could have a better quality of DNA than when ejaculated.
  • Studies have shown that ICSI is a better choice versus IVF for improving the pregnancy outcomes of men with high sperm DNA fragmentation.

Additional testing can be used to assess any changes made to decrease fragmentation after three months.

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