Blood flow is important for the proper formation of sperm. What is known as the spermatic cord carries blood to and from the testicles. But when a varicocele forms, it can limit blood flow, affecting a man’s fertility. Medical experts still aren’t sure why this disruption occurs. But a varicocele is a blockage that prevents proper blood flow out of the testicles. Researchers believe a valve becomes faulty in a vein, inhibiting blood from moving through freely. This makes the vein dilate, which can cause damage to the testicles and affect fertility.
A varicocele often occurs in adolescence. It usually happens on the left side, but can affect sperm production in both testicles. Now, a consortium of researchers from Europe have found that even a small varicocele can affect male sperm production in a big way. 7,000 army recruits from six different countries participated in the study. Ulla Nordström Joensen, MD, PhD was its lead author. She hails from Roskilde Hospital in Denmark.
Dr. Joensen said that even the mildest interruption in blood flow had a significant impact on a man’s fertility, particularly in semen quality. This led to less sperm concentration. But for those with varicocele, motility problems are common. This is the sperm’s ability to swim energetically for long periods in order to reach its destination. Even if a man has a problem such as this, he is unlikely to recognize it himself. How to overcome the issue in men with this condition is still a point of contention, however. Surgery can fix the issue.
But 15% of men are said to have a varicocele. That is certainly too many to operate on. Of course, only those who want to have children would be interested. In this study, 7,067 men from Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland took part. They were all recruited between 1996 and 2010 to serve in their country’s military. Their average age was 19. 1,098 were diagnosed with varicocele, or 16% of the total. Quizzically, Dr. Joensen points out that some men with a varicocele are also fertile. It does not necessarily lead to infertility but can. If a man and his partner have been trying for up to a year without conception, it is important that the couple each seek a fertility specialist. For the hopeful father-to-be, this means an appointment with an urologist.