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Antisperm Antibody Test

Test Overview

An antisperm antibody test looks for special proteins (antibodies) that fight against a man's sperm in blood, vaginal fluids, or semen. The test uses a sample of sperm and adds a substance that binds only to affected sperm.

Semen can cause an immune system response in either the man's or woman's body. The antibodies can damage or kill sperm. If a high number of sperm antibodies come into contact with a man's sperm, it may be hard for the sperm to fertilize an egg. The couple has a hard time becoming pregnant. This is called immunologic infertility.

A man can make sperm antibodies when his sperm come into contact with his immune system. This can happen when the testicles are injured or after surgeries (such as a biopsy or vasectomy) or after a prostate gland infection. The testicles normally keep the sperm away from the rest of the body and the immune system.

A woman can have an allergic reaction to her partner's semen and make sperm antibodies. This kind of immune response is not fully understood but may affect fertility. This is a rare cause of infertility.

Why It Is Done

The antisperm antibody test may be done if:

  • A cause for infertility cannot be found. Experts disagree about the usefulness of the test because the result may not change the treatment.
  • The results from another fertility test, such as the postcoital test, are not clear.

How To Prepare

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

Blood sample

For women, a blood sample is taken from a vein in the arm.

Semen sample

For men, a semen sample is collected after the blood and vaginal fluid samples are taken. You should not release your sperm (ejaculate) for 2 days before the test. It is important to not go longer than 5 days before the test without ejaculating.

How It Is Done

Blood sample from the woman

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

Semen sample

A semen sample is collected by masturbation. You should urinate and then wash and rinse your hands and penis before collecting the semen in a sterile cup. You cannot use lubricants or condoms when collecting the sample. If you collect the semen sample at home, be sure to get it to the lab or clinic within 1 hour. Keep the sample at body temperature and out of direct sunlight. The sample cannot be collected by having sexual intercourse and then withdrawing when you ejaculate, because vaginal fluid may be mixed with the sperm.

How It Feels

Blood test

The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.

Semen sample

Collecting a semen sample does not cause any discomfort. If masturbation is against your religious beliefs, talk with your doctor.

Risks

Blood test

There is very little chance of a problem from having a blood sample taken from a vein.

  • You may get a small bruise at the site. You can lower the chance of bruising by keeping pressure on the site for several minutes.
  • In rare cases, the vein may become swollen after the blood sample is taken. This problem is called phlebitis. A warm compress can be used several times a day to treat this.
  • Ongoing bleeding can be a problem for people with bleeding disorders. Aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood-thinning medicines can make bleeding more likely. If you have bleeding or clotting problems, or if you take blood-thinning medicine, tell your doctor before your blood sample is taken.

Semen sample

Usually there are no problems from collecting a semen sample.

Results

An antisperm antibody test looks for special proteins (antibodies) that fight against a man's sperm in blood, vaginal fluids, or semen. The higher the level of antibody-affected sperm found in the semen, the lower the chance of the sperm fertilizing an egg.

What Affects the Test

Collecting a semen sample within 48 hours of ejaculating or after not ejaculating for longer than 5 days may affect the results of this test.

What To Think About

  • Experts disagree about the usefulness of the test because the result may not change the treatment. Most people who have infertility problems because of sperm antibodies choose assisted reproductive technology to become pregnant. To learn more, see the topic Infertility Testing.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Fritz MA, Speroff L (2011). Male infertility. In Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility, 8th ed., pp. 1249–1292. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby’s Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine
Femi Olatunbosun, MB, FRCSC - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Last Revised December 7, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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