Venous embolization, a minimally invasive treatment for a common cause of male infertility, can significantly improve a couple's chances of pregnancy, according to a new study in the journal Radiology.
"Venous embolization, a simple treatment using a catheter through the groin, can help to improve sperm function in infertile men," said researcher Sebastian Flacke, from Tufts University. "With the patients' improved sperm function, more than one-quarter of their healthy partners were able to become pregnant."
Flacke explained that normally, blood flows to the testicles and returns to the heart via a network of tiny veins that have a series of one-way valves to prevent the blood from flowing backward to the testicles. If the valves that regulate the blood flow from these veins become defective, blood does not properly circulate out of the testicles, causing swelling and a network of tangled blood vessels in the scrotum called a varicocele (or varicose vein).
Varicoceles are relatively common, affecting up to 15 percent of the adult male population in the U.S., usually occurring in young men between the ages of 15 and 25. Often there are no symptoms, but sometimes a varicocele can cause pain, shrinkage or fertility problems.
The traditional treatment has been open surgery, but embolization has emerged as a minimally invasive outpatient alternative. In the procedure, a small catheter is inserted through a nick in the skin at the groin into the varicocele. Recovery time is minimal, and patients typically can return to work the next day.
In the study, a semen analysis performed on 173 patients three months after the procedure showed that, on average, sperm motility and sperm count had significantly improved. "Embolization of varicoceles in infertile men may be considered a useful adjunct to in-vitro fertilization," Flacke concluded.
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Source: Radiological Society of North America