Flacke noted that the success rate of the treatment is very high. More than 95 percent of the time the procedure corrects the problem.
The report is published in the August issue of Radiology.
For the study, Flacke's team collected data on 223 infertile men with at least one varicose vein. All the men had healthy partners with whom they wanted to have a baby.
Flacke's group used embolization to successfully relieve 226 of the 228 varicose veins among the men. Three months after the procedure, the researchers analyzed the sperm of 173 patients. The analysis showed, on average, that sperm motility and sperm count had significantly improved.
After six months, 45 couples (26 percent) reported a pregnancy. "That's a very large number for a simple procedure," Flacke said.
Infertility expert Dr. Hossein Sadeghi-Nejad, an associate professor of urology at UMDNJ New Jersey Medical School and Hackensack University Medical Center, thinks this procedure can be useful even if it is not the preferred one.
Sadeghi-Nejad noted that, as a rule, infertility treatment begins with a woman. "The fact is that a male factor is responsible for infertility in about half of the cases," he said. "Varicoceles are one example of the male factor that can affect fertility."
If you do treat varicoceles properly, you do get improvement in sperm counts and pregnancy rates, Sadeghi-Nejad said.
However, there are drawbacks to embolization, Sadeghi-Nejad added. These include a steep learning curve to get used to doing the procedure and the danger of prolonged or misdirected radiation, especially if there are varicoceles on both sides of the scrotum.
"I recommend, in experienced hands, a microsurgical varicocelectomy, which is a very quick operation with minimal time off work," Sadeghi-Nejad said. "The patient is back to work in two or three days."
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