Antisperm Antibodies Affect Male Fertility
If you and your partner have been trying without success to get pregnant you may be dealing with a condition where antisperm antibodies are attached to the sperm making it more difficult for them to move through the cervical mucus and have access to the egg.
Antibodies can also interfere with the fertilization of the egg. When couples are going through unexplained infertility they may undergo more extensive testing of the semen.
A semen analysis will be able to determine if there are any sperm which is immobile. Antibodies can be produced in both men and women but are more common in men who are experiencing infertility problems.
Just what is “Antisperm Antibodies”
An antisperm antibody is a condition that happens when the body becomes “allergic” to the sperm. The body’s immune system triggers an attack that will destroy the sperm before it can fertilize the egg.
In normal cases, the immune system will protect the sperm using a barrier in the testes. In men who are diagnosed with antisperm antibodies, the barrier isn’t working correctly.
This means that those cells that are immune will be able to access the sperm. There are a number of different ways that the sperm is affected by these antibodies depending on where they are located.
If the antibodies are located in the head they can stop the sperm from adhering correctly to the egg and fertilization won’t be able to happen.
If the antibodies are located in the tail the sperm may become immobile or they may just clump together with no movement at all. In some cases, a woman’s cervical mucus may also develop antibodies towards the sperm.
Studies show that antisperm antibodies that are found in the cervical mucus may be the cause of up to 40 percent of unexplained infertility.
What Causes Antisperm Antibodies?
Studies show that about 10 percent of infertile men have antisperm antibodies while the number drops to less than one percent infertile men.
Up to 70 percent of men who have had surgery in their reproductive tract, such as had a vasectomy reversed, will have antibodies in their sperm. Anything that causes a disruption to the blood-testes barrier can cause antibodies.
This includes the following:
- Reversal of vasectomy.
- Testicular torsion: This condition occurs when the testicles are twisted.
- Testicular biopsy.
- Testicular cancer.
- Any infection, such as prostatitis or orchitis.
- Varicocele: This is when the veins around the spermatic cord are thickened.
- Cryptorchidism: This condition occurs when the testicles fail to descent.
Even though those risk factors noted above can cause problems with antibodies, most men who have antisperm antibodies will not have had any of these conditions.
Studies show that most men experiencing infertility are at risk and should be tested for antibodies. This is particularly important if no other reasons that are evident of what can be causing infertility.
Testing for Antisperm Antibodies
You and your partner will undergo testing for antisperm antibodies if there are no other explanations behind your infertility. Your doctor will explain what the test means and how it will be done.
For women, a blood sample and vaginal fluid sample will be taken and for men, it will be a semen sample.
The antisperm antibody test will be looking to see if antibodies (special proteins) are present that may be triggering the body’s immune system to attack the sperm.
These proteins are looked for in the blood, vaginal fluids, and semen. The more sperm that is found in the semen that is affected by antibodies, the less chance there is of the sperm fertilizing the egg.
Is There Treatment for Antibodies?
There is really no treatment for antisperm antibodies that are currently available. It is possible to take corticosteroids which can suppress the immune system and decrease the production of antibodies.
However, corticosteroids have some very serious side effects such as irreparable damage to the hip bone and should only be taken with great caution.
Some couples have successfully used IUI (intrauterine insemination) in order to conceive.
This infertility treatment involves injecting the sperm right into the uterus and the fallopian tubes so that the cervical mucus is completely bypassed.
The most effective treatment for infertility caused by antibodies is IVF (in vitro fertilization) particularly when testing indicates that there are extremely high levels of these antibodies.
Pregnancy after Antisperm Antibodies
Once you and your partner have been diagnosed with antisperm antibodies, you may at first mourn your ability to conceive naturally.
Many women feel that if they’re not having a true allergic reaction to their partner’s sperm that there really isn’t a problem.
Don’t make the assumption that just because your sperm has antibodies, that you won’t be able to get pregnant.
With infertility treatments such as IUI and IVF so readily available these days, your chances of conceiving are still very high.
Once you’ve been diagnosed with antibodies your doctor will be able to recommend alternate methods of getting pregnant depending on your own individual situation.