image_pdfimage_print
Varicocele and Male Factor Infertility

Varicocele and Male Factor Infertility

Varicocele and Male Factor Infertility

Varicocele and male factor infertility: Many men (40%) with low sperm count, low movement and high abnormal sperm shape have dilated veins around the testes. On the other hand, many men (15%) with varicoceles have normal sperm parameters and fertility. Only large varicoceles than can be felt by a physician are associated with lower fertility in men. Varicoceles are found during physical examination and can be confirmed with Doppler ultrasound of the testes. How dilated veins – varicoceles may cause abnormal sperm and male infertility is still unknown for sure (pressure, heat, toxin accumulation, oxidative stress).

varicocele surgery

varicocele surgery

Does surgical treatment of varicocele increase the chance of pregnancy in female partners?

Some urologists recommends surgical treatment of varicoceles in adult men to improve the chance for spontaneous conception

This recommendation should at least be issued if and only if:

  1.  Varicocele was large enough to be felt on examination (not ultrasound).
  2. The couple had documented infertility or desire future fertility.
  3. The female partner had normal fertility (especially normal egg reserve) or correctable infertility.
  4. The male partner had one or more abnormal semen parameters.

The rationale is that repair may restore normal sperm parameters and spontaneous conception. Varicocele repair is definitely not indicated in the presence of female factor requiring IVF e.g blocked fallopian tubes, as improved sperm parameters will not achieve a pregnancy. Some studies reported improved sperm parameters and sometimes fertility after surgical treatment of varicocele but many of them were low quality studies (no control group, not randomized, non-palpable varicocleles).

Good quality studies: randomized (one group of men underwent surgery for large varicoceles and another group did not)

Ten randomized studies were published (including 894 men). Some studies indicated improve in sperm parameters after surgery. Most of the studies indicated that the chance for live birth is not increased after varicocele repair. There is no conclusive evidence that varicocele repair increases the chance for pregnancy and delivery in female partners of men diagnosed with varicoclele (summary below).

Surgery or embolization for varicoceles in subfertile men:                     Varicocele is a dilatation (enlargement) of the veins along the spermatic cord (the cord suspending the testis) in the scrotum. Dilatation occurs when valves within the veins along the spermatic cord fail and allow retrograde blood flow, causing a backup of blood. The mechanisms by which varicocele might affect fertility have not yet been explained, and neither have the mechanisms by which surgical treatment of the varicocele might restore fertility. This review analysed 10 studies (894 participants) and found evidence (combined odds ratio was 1.47 (95% CI 1.05 to 2.05) to suggest an increase in pregnancy rates after varicocele treatment compared to no treatment in subfertile couples, in whom, apart from poor sperm quality, varicocele in the man was the only abnormal finding. This means that 17 men would need to be treated to achieve one additional pregnancy. However, findings were inconclusive as the quality of the available evidence was very low and more research is needed with live birth or pregnancy rate as the primary outcome (Kroese 2012).

 

Surgical repair of varicocele should only be considered in carefully selected subfertile couples. There is no conclusive evidence that repair increases the chance for delivery in female partners. Data supporting surgical repair of varicocele are controversial and results or surgery is certainly inferior to IVF-ICSI.

A consultation with reproductive endocrinologist & fertility specialist is very important before deciding on varicocele surgery to study female factor infertility and  discuss potential benefits and harm from surgery in achieving the final goal which is conceiving not just improving sperm count and motility.

varicocele and Male Factor Infertility
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail
Practical Approach to Male Infertility

Practical Approach to Male Infertility

Practical Approach to Male Infertility

Male factor infertility is present in approximately 40% of couples having difficulty to conceive. In most cases, however, it is seldom one factor. A basic element that is encountered in every case is the number and quality of eggs. Other factors in also include sexual factor and other female factors (e.g blocked fallopian tubes). Hence, evaluation of female factors is integral to evaluation and successful treatment of male factor.

Evaluation of female factors includes testing for ovarian reserve and testing of the fallopian tubes for patency. In addition to evaluation of medical, obstetric and genetic risks of getting pregnant.

Evaluation of Male Factor

Reproductive ability in males is initially evaluated through i. Detailed history of male partner and ii. sperm analysis. History can indicate many factors that may reduce the ability to conceive: social habits, erectile dysfunction, childhood infections (mumps), medical disorders, genetic diseases (chromosomal abnormalities, specific genetic diseases as cystic fibrosis), occupational exposure..etc. Unfortunately  in the majority of cases history may not predict abnormalities in male factor

Sperm Analysis

Accurate interpretation of sperm analysis (volume, concentration,  movement and shape) is the most important step in evaluation. It is important to take in consideration each factor separately and then in combination. Normal parameters are volume >2mL, concentration 15million/mL, motility 40% and normal shape 4% using strict morphological criteria (Kruger).

Repeat sperm analysis is commonly recommended when abnormalities are detected. There is no strong evidence to repeating the sperm analysis. If the sperm analysis is to be repeated this should be done at least 2 months later as it would take that long for new sperm to be ‘manufactured’.

Generally 10 million moving sperm sperm per ejaculate (volume x concentration x % motility) is required for successful reproduction with intercourse and IUI. Approximately 2 million motile sperm are adequate for IVF. Lower parameters especially if low morphology <2% require IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm morphology (ICSI).

Other Tests

Genetic screening for chromosome analysis and Y chromosome micro-deletion is required in low sperm concentration (<10 million /mL) and azospermia is required. Abnormalities are found in 5-10% of men and can be transmitted to children. Genetic screening for cystic fibrosis and its congenital absence of the vas deferens is also required if azosprmia (obstructive) is present.

Other sperm tests as pH, fructose and sometimes hormone analysis are sometimes helpful.

Tests for sperm DNA fragmentation is still being evaluated but are not part of routine fertility workup.

Treatment of Male factor Infertility

Improvement in sperm analysis is not the main aim of treatment. The main aim is conception and delivery of a healthy child. Sperm analysis improvement is a surrogate outcome not a final goal. In most cases, the improvement in sperm parameters (count, movement and shape) does not translate into a higher chance for conception. In addition, in the majority of cases there is no specific cause identified for male factor abnormalities. The two practical strategies left are to wait (within what is allowed by female ovarian reserve) for sperm analysis to improve and conception to occur or to use the small / abnormal sperm available for assisted reproduction (ICSI) which is a very efficient strategy.

Four Important Considerations before Treating Male Infertility

a. Female age and ovarian reserve: any treatment for male factor should be guided with the number of eggs in the ovary and their quality (age related). In women with women with low egg reserve and 35 or older consideration to ovarian stimulation (to increase mature egg production) followed by IUI or ICSI should be exercised.

b. Sperm Freezing: In men with moderate to severe male factor one should consider freezing one or more sperm samples. The future sperm parameters cannot be predicted and can deteriorate even to a complete absence of sperm in ejaculates. Sperm freezing is cheep, non invasive and can save men from the need for surgical retrieval of sperm. Men undergoing vasectomy can also consider sperm freezing, prior to procedure,  in case they decide to father children in the future

c. Genetic screening: there are two main values to screening males with moderate to severe sperm abnormalities to chromosomes, Y micro-deletion and cystic fibrosis. To avoid transmission to children and to counsel the couple about the chance of successful surgical sperm retrieval (TESE). In some cases the chance for finding sperm is extremely low that TESE is not indicated.

b. Urological consultation: After female and initial male evaluation is complete, evaluation by a male urologist is very useful. A urologist well versed in male infertility can counsel the couple about the chance for success of surgical sperm retrieval and following correct of obstruction.

Four Treatment Options to Consider

Surgical sperm retrieval: in obstructive and non-obstructive azospermia sperm can be retrieved directly from the testes by a male urologist. Micro-TESE involves dissecting one or both testes and obtaining multiple tiny biopsies from many areas. In real time each biopsy is examined under a microscope. The process is repeated till sperm are obtained. The best chance

Surgical treatment for obstructive azospermia: in men that underwent vasectomy before vasectomy reversal can, if successful, restore fertility. Other areas of obstruction can also be restored by urological surgery.

IUI: in few cases of mild male infertility (producing close to 10 million motile sperm) or mild shape abnormalities, ovarian stimulation and IUI is an aoption for 3 cycles. IUI using donor sperm is also an option.

IVF-ICSI: assisted reproductive technology is very robust and can address the majority of male infertility: low sperm count, low motility, abnormal sperm shape, prior fertilization failure. Its is very efficient that it can achieve a conception with very few available fresh or frozen sperm. It can be synchronized with surgical sperm retrieval so that fresh sperm are used for ICSI. Once sperm are available, the success of IVF is dependent on female age and ovarian reserve.

Interventions to Avoid or Consider Cautiously

Surgical treatment of varicocele: Varicocele is a common finding in infertile males and can be associated with low concentration and motility and higher abnormal shape of sperm. Varicocele surgery does improve sperm parameters. The problem with varicocele surgery is that it is not proven to increase the odds of delivering a child by female partner. Varicocele surgery should be cautiously considered due to lack of solid evidence of its benefits.

Medical treatment: The use of medications (e.g clomid, nolvadex, anastrozole) should be avoided as there is no evidence that they will improve the chance of pregnancy and improvement in sperm parameters. The use of injection medications should only be employed in men with a specific indications related to deficiency of such hormones

Supplements: so far there is NO supplement or ‘vitamin’ proven to increase the chance for successful reproduction in male with sperm abnormalities.

A practical approach to male infertility requires initial evaluation of sperm analysis, ovarian reserve and genetic risk factors followed by a treatment plan oriented with the ultimate goal: conceiving healthy child not intermediate issues as cause of male infertility and improving sperm analysis.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmail