What is a white blood cell and why does your semen analysis measure white blood cell concentration? If sperm cells are the quarterbacks of baby-making, white blood cells are like your offensive linemen. White blood cells (known in the medical industry as leukocytes or pus cells) are produced in your bone marrow. When there’s an infection, your brain signals yours white blood cells to go the site of infection and destroy the bacteria and prevent it from spreading through the rest of your body. This means that in areas where an infection may be present, there is a higher amount of white blood cells.
In a typical semen analysis, a trained technician will take a sample of semen, place it on a slide and analyze the amount of cells and their quality. This can be tricky with white blood cells because of their shape. In a typical semen sample, there are some sperm cells that aren’t fully formed or that have been damaged, leaving only the rounded head of the sperm. In that same sample, there will probably be a few white blood cells, which are also round. The similarities between these cells means that the typical semen analysis technique won’t work for counting your white blood cells. To analyze the amount of white blood cells in a sample, a trained technician will typically use a staining technique, meaning that a dye is applied to the sample, staining the white blood cells, making it easier for the technician to differentiate between the sperm cells and white blood cells.
Leukocytospermia, also known as Pyospermia, is a condition in which your semen has an abnormally high amount of white blood cells. According to the World Health Organization, an abnormally high amount of white blood cells is defined as 1 million cells per milliliter or higher. Roughly 5% of men with a fertility problem have leukocytospermia. Several things can cause leukocytospermia, including:
Infrequent ejaculation: White blood cells naturally accumulate over time, so the amount of white blood cells that your sample contains increases as time between ejaculations increases, which could lead to an abnormally high amount of blood cells in your semen
Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases occur when the body thinks that healthy cells are actually foreign, causing white blood cells to begin attacking these cells, including sperm cells.
A cold: If you’ve been sick in the past three months, your body’s production of white blood cells has increased, causing a higher amount to be present in your semen. .
An infection: If you’ve got an STI (sexually transmitted infection), your body sends white blood cells to the area of infection (your genitals) to fight it off the bacteria, leading to a spike of white blood cells.
How does Leukocytospermia affect your fertility?
Just like sperm cells, white blood cells produce a waste call reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS destroys cells, both the bad cells (like bacteria) and the good cells (like sperm cells). Excessively high amounts of white blood cells in your semen are also indicative of an STI, which can cause blockage in the epididymis, preventing sperm from being released during ejaculation.
When it comes to white blood cells in your semen, the fewer the better. That being said, it’s okay to have some white blood cells in your semen. The WHO defines the normal white blood cell concentration is anything less than 1 million per cc. If your semen analysis shows a WBC of 1 million/cc or higher, your doctor will probably request more tests to investigate the cause of the white blood cells. The upside to having a high amount of leukocytes is that it’s very treatable once the cause has been identified.