Breaking Bad: Insights Into Sperm DNA Fragmentation

By The Examen Team


What is sperm DNA fragmentation?

DNA fragmentation is the separation or breaking of DNA strands into pieces.

Sperm DNA fragmentation occurs when DNA inside the sperm head is damaged and the strands become broken or fragmented. This matter because sperm DNA provides 50% of the makeup of your baby. Men with a high proportion of sperm showing DNA fragmentation are more likely to experience fertility problems.

There are two types of sperm DNA fragmentation – single strand DNA breaks, and double strand DNA breaks (more on these below).

Understanding the results of sperm DNA analysis empowers men to make informed lifestyle choices that may enhance the quality of their sperm DNA, and helping them select the most suitable fertility treatment pathway, such as IVF or ICSI.

My Semen Analysis test came back normal!

The Semen Analysis test is usually the only test given to men on their fertility journey.  This test checks basic sperm health parameters including the volume, motility, concentration, and vitality of sperm – all of which are important factors when considering male fertility.

But the Semen Analysis test does not examine DNA fragmentation – and this is a problem because up to 40% of men attending fertility clinics who had ‘normal ‘Semen Analysis test result also had high sperm DNA fragmentation.

How can I tell if I have high sperm DNA fragmentation?

There are no obvious outward symptoms if you have high sperm DNA fragmentation.  However, if you are trying for a baby, research has shown that high sperm DNA fragmentation is directly linked to miscarriage and early pregnancy loss. So, that’s a great reason to get checked out, especially if you’re thinking of starting a family, or you’re a couple undergoing fertility treatment, or if you there has been previous early pregnancy loss.

What causes sperm DNA fragmentation?

Sperm DNA fragmentation is caused by several factors – many of them related to lifestyle, the environment, and underlying medical issues such as physical problems, infections, or issues during sperm manufacture (spermatogenesis).

Oxidative stress is a key cause – this is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body which can cause damage to organs and tissues and result in various diseases. Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as a bad diet, being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking … all contribute towards oxidative stress within sperm.

Environmental factors such as the temperature of the scrotum also contributes, as do physical issues such as a varicocele – a type of varicose vein in the scrotum that causes inflammation and raised temperature.  Sometimes there are more fundamental problems associated with the manufacturing process of the sperm itself i.e. when the sperm are being created.

Treating DNA fragmentation

Remember we spoke about there being two types of sperm DNA fragmentation – single strand DNA breaks and double strand DNA breaks?

Single strand DNA breaks are more usually associated with being caused by oxidative stress and physical issues such as varicocele. The good news is that you make fresh new batches of sperm every three months – so by making simple lifestyle changes you can help improve the quantity and quality of your sperm.  These changes include:

Making these changes can really improve single strand DNA breaks and result in a much improved DNA fragmentation result.

Double strand DNA breaks are more problematic as they are often indicative of issues with spermatogenesis, i.e. when sperm are created.  Determining whether you have a high proportion of double stranded DNA breaks early in your fertility journey can help you make some important decisions about how to move forward on that journey.

How can Examen support your fertility journey?

Sperm DNA fragmentation analysis provides more information on male fertility than semen analysis alone (and if you’re in Northern Ireland, we also offer Semen Analysis testing too). Examen’s sperm DNA tests are the most accurate available with the highest sensitivity, specificity and predictive power when compared to other sperm DNA tests.

Why Choose Examen sperm DNA fragmentation testing?

So why wait? If you are experiencing fertility worries or are thinking of starting a family and want to find out where your sperm health is at, speak to the Examen team today and find out how our professional and 100% confidential service can support your fertility journey.

Call 028 9023 8915 or

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