Varicoceles, or swollen veins in the scrotum, is a common cause of low sperm count. New research suggests that the problem can be effectively treated with a minimally invasive procedure called retrograde venous embolization.
As many as 16 percent of meneven young menhave this type of varicose vein, a common cause of low infertility in men.
The outpatient embolization procedure is done via a tiny hook-shaped catheter and blocks excessive blood flow into the veins, allowing them to shrink back to normal size.
The findings, which appear in the journal Radiology
, indicate that retrograde venous embolization improves semen quality. All the men who underwent this procedure for the study, had a history of infertility for at least a year and 26 percent went on to impregnate their partners after the procedure.
The study, by Dr. Sebastian Flacke, from the University of Bonn Medical School in Germany, and colleagues, involved 223 infertile men with 228 varicoceles who underwent retrograde venous embolization.
Overall, 226 varicoceles were successfully treated. Clinical and ultrasound testing showed that the varicocele had fully resolved in 206 patients (92.4 percent).
Varicocele embolization has been associated with significant improvements in both sperm count and motility. Still, the average values were considered abnormal based on World Health Organization guidelines.
According to the researchers sperm movement was the only significant pre-treatment predictor of pregnancy. Other potential predictors, such as varicocele severity, hormone levels, ultrasound findings, and other semen parameters did not.
The authors conclude that the fertility benefits seen with retrograde venous embolization are "similar to those reported after surgical repair." This treatment could be a "useful adjunct to in vitro fertilization therapy."