In order for fertilization to occur, sperm must successfully travel from the testes to the urethra through a series of tubes or ducts, the most important of which is the vas deferens. Some men have damage to their sperm ducts or are missing the ducts altogether, which can prevent conception from occurring. This is called obstruction. When there is no sperm in the ejaculated fluid, this is called azoospermia.
There are three main causes of sperm transportation (obstruction) issues: congenital disorders, surgical obstruction and acquired obstruction from infections or diseases.
There are certain conditions that are present at birth, which are known as congenital disorders. Examples of congenital disorders that can impact male fertility include:
- Absence of the vas deferens. This is the same duct that is treated during a vasectomy. This is most often seen in men who carry abnormalities in the cystic fibrosis gene.
- Incomplete development of the sperm ducts.
- Lack of seminal vesicles, which store sperm.
When an obstruction or blockage occurs, it blocks sperm transportation to the urethra. Obstructions can occur from accidents or surgery (such as a vasectomy) and result in lowered sperm count or the absence of sperm altogether (azoospermia). The most common example of this is men who have a had a surgical procedure called a vasectomy where the vas deferens is cut or ligated for contraception.
Acquired disorders are caused by an infection or a disease of the male reproductive system. The disease/infection can lead to scarring, which can impact sperm transportation. If left untreated, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, can lead to scarring and blockage of the ducts and other reproductive structures.
Symptoms are Associated with Blockage of Sperm Ducts?
Most men do not have symptoms when there are sperm transportation problems. In some instances, the volume of semen ejaculated when there is a blockage may be less. Rarely men may have swelling in the testicular or scrotal areas.
Treatment Options to Improve Sperm Transportation
Some obstructions that cause sperm transportation issues and affect male fertility can be treated with urologic surgery. In some instances relief of the obstruction is not possible, such as when there is a complete absence of the vas deferens congenitally. In this instance, there are surgical retrieval methods which can be used to retrieve the sperm directly from the testicle prior to in vitro fertilization (IVF). During IVF, the sperm fertilizes the egg(s) in a lab and the embryo is transferred back into the uterus.
If a man has had a vasectomy, a vasectomy reversal or sperm retrieval prior to IVF, are two fertility treatment options.
You might also be interested in: Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ISCI).