What is an Immune Response to Sperm?
In normal circumstances your immune system is what your body uses to fight off infections and diseases like the common cold. But in some cases, your immune system can attack your sperm as if they were a foreign virus or bacteria in your body. The result of this is that the sperm become damaged or immobilised, reducing fertility and your ability to father children.
An immune response, where your immune system turns on itself is called an autoimmune disease.
What are the Chances of Having an Immune Response to Sperm?
Men having an immune response to their own sperm is not uncommon and some studies have shown that up to 10% of infertility cases in men are caused by an immune response to the sperm they produce.
Immune Response to Sperm Symptoms
Many men show no symptoms at all. This is because the symptoms of the immune system attacking a man’s sperm cells can vary between men and more often than not are not even noticeable. However, there are certain indicators which may make you more likely to have an immune response to sperm, so if you should have experienced any of the following you may need to get yourself tested:
Sperm Autoimmune Disease Causes
- Vasectomy. Having previously had a vasectomy dramatically increases the chances of you developing an immune response to sperm, so even if you have a vasectomy reversal, your chances of conceiving a child naturally are reduced
- Genetic Predisposition. autoimmune problems tend to run in families, so if any of your family has autoimmune problems, you are at a greater risk
- Injury, Testicular Cancer or Surgery. These conditions can sometimes damage the delicate tubes that transport the sperm and this can cause an immune response even after the tubes are cleared
- Infection. Some diseases (especially Sexually Transmitted Diseases) can increase the risk of you developing an immune response to sperm
- Undescended Testicles. If you suffered with undescended testicles when you were younger, this can increase your chances of an autoimmune response to your sperm
Immune Response to Sperm Diagnosis
You should see your doctor who will refer you for a simple semen analysis test. This test will identify if there are few or no sperm present.
Make sure you tell your doctor if you’ve experienced any of the possible causes of immune response to sperm listed above in the symptoms section as this will help them with diagnosis and treatment later if your semen analysis comes back with an absence of sperm.
Immune Response to Sperm Treatment
There are various drugs that suppress your immune system that can be prescribed if you have an autoimmune problem affecting your sperm, though it is not recommended that you take them for long periods of time as they disable your body’s effectiveness at fighting off normal diseases like the common cold and flu.
Fertility treatments can also help in certain cases. Most notably where having an immune response has reduced the sperm’s motility (the sperm’s ability to swim) or where the sperm have difficulty breaking the outer layer to penetrate the egg and fertilise it.
Finally, if you do have an immune response to sperm, make sure you are healthy as immune problems can become worse when you lead an unhealthy lifestyle.
Problems Associated with an Immune Response to Sperm
The following conditions can be related an autoimmune response to sperm:
- Ejaculatory Duct Obstruction
- Varicoceles and Fertility
- Undescended Testicle and Fertility
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Fertility