Minimally invasive treatment improves male fertility

July 22nd, 2008 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 22 (IANS) A minimally invasive treatment for varicose veins that causes male infertility, can improve a couple’s chances of pregnancy, according to a new study. “Venous embolization, a simple treatment using a catheter through the groin, can help to improve sperm function in infertile men,” said the study’s co-author Sebastian Flacke, associate professor of radiology at the Tufts University School of Medicine.

“With the patients’ improved sperm function, more than one-quarter of their healthy partners were able to become pregnant.”

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 approximately 10 to 15 percent of the male population, mostly in the 15 and 25 age group in the US.

It has traditionally been treated with open surgery, but recently varicocele embolization has emerged as a minimally invasive outpatient alternative.

Flacke and colleagues studied 223 infertile men, aged 18-50, with at least one varicocele. All of them had healthy partners with whom they were trying to achieve a pregnancy.

In the study, 226 of the patients’ 228 varicoceles were successfully treated with embolization. A semen analysis performed on 173 patients three months after the procedure showed that, on average, sperm motility and sperm count had significantly improved.

Six months later, 45 couples, or 26 percent, reported a pregnancy. “Embolization of varicoceles in infertile men may be considered a useful adjunct to in-vitro fertilization,” Flacke said.

These findings will be published in the August issue of Radiology.

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