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Varicocele and Male Fertility


Do varicocele treatments improve fertility?

Infertility is a huge hurdle for couples trying to conceive and add to their family. It's an issue for roughly 10 to 15 percent of couples in the U.S. [source: Mayo Clinic].

But there is hope. In about 85 to 90 percent of cases, infertility is successfully treated through conventional therapies like surgery or medicine [source: ASRM].

The most common treatment for varicocele is a varicocelectomy, an outpatient procedure that doesn't require any hospital stay. A surgeon makes an incision, usually in the lower abdomen, and ties off the spermatic vein causing the condition. Other veins in the scrotum then take over, rerouting the blood flow [source: PubMed Health].

A similar but less invasive treatment is varicocele embolization. With this process, a smaller incision is made to insert a tiny catheter into the problem vein, using either a coil or special fluid to divert the blood flow away from the vein [source: PubMed Health].

Unfortunately, there isn't enough proof to show that these treatments are guaranteed to improve fertility in men, especially in regard to sperm count. According to one analysis of previous studies, a lack of control groups discounts any findings of increased sperm count after the surgical repair [source: Kantartzi]. Basically, sperm count can rise or fall despite the correction of a varicocele, based on other factors. However, it has been generally noted that sperm count does rise in men who have a varicocelectomy, though only slightly [source: Kantartzi].

The difficulty lies in isolating varicocele as the cause of infertility, as opposed to other conditions that could coincide with it, like oligospermia (low sperm count) or azoospermia (zero sperm count) [source: ASRM]. A varicocele slows blood flow out of the testicles, which in turns raises their temperature. High temperature can destroy the creation of and DNA in sperm, so there could be a correlation. But again, medical professionals have been divided on whether a varicocele directly leads to infertility [source: Kantartzi].


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