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All about infertility causes of male infertility causes of female infertility causes of infertility infertility tests female fertility tests male fertility tests infertility treatment assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments for female infertility female infertility drugs treatments for male infertility infertility prevention in vitro fertilization (IVF) intrauterine insemination (IUI) gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT)

What are the treatments for male infertility?

Low sperm counts can be treated by collecting and concentrating healthy sperm for insemination or assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment. Semen without sperm can be treated by using either mature or immature sperm surgically removed from the testicles. Conception is then attempted by injecting a sperm into an egg (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and transferring the fertilized egg into the uterus or a fallopian tube. If semen is ejaculated into the bladder (retrograde ejaculation) instead of out through the penis, sperm can be recovered from the bladder, washed, and used for insemination. Structural problems can be treated surgically, increasing the chances of natural conception.

Surgery can sometimes reverse a vasectomy, repair an enlarged vein in the scrotum (varicocele repair), or correct blockages in or absence of the vas deferens. Sperm production problems caused by hormonal imbalances (affecting about 2% of infertile men) can be treated with medication or hormones that help the hypothalamus and pituitary gland start normal sperm production. Treatments include hormones and medications such as GnRH, gonadotropins, and bromocriptine. When no healthy sperm are available using the above means, some couples use donor sperm combined with insemination or assisted reproductive technology. Other couples choose adoption.

Drug therapy includes medications to improve sperm production, treat hormonal dysfunction, cure infections that compromise sperm, and fight sperm antibodies. The administration of testosterone is similar to that used to treat testosterone deficiency. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex, an antiestrogen agent, may be used to stimulate gonadotropin (a male hormone) release, which leads to testosterone production. Antibiotics, like levofloxacin (Levaquin? and doxycycline (Periostat?, are used to treat fertility-impairing infections of the urinary tract, testes, and prostate, and STDs.

Surgery is performed to treat reproductive tract obstruction and varicocele. Vasoepididymostomy is a microsurgical procedure that corrects obstruction in the coiled tube that connects the testes with the vas deferens (epididymis). Obstructions commonly result from STDs and also include cysts and tubal closure (atresia), which is usually genetic. Vericocelectomy, the removal of a varicocele from the testes, often results in increased sperm count.

Electroejaculation procedure can be used to produce ejaculation when neurological dysfunction prevents it. An electrical rectal probe generates a current that stimulates nerves and induces ejaculation; semen dribbles out through the urethra and is collected. Retrograde ejaculation is associated with the procedure and sodium bicarbonate is usually taken the day before to make the urine alkaline (nonacidic) and nondetrimental to sperm. Candidates for electroejaculation include men who have undergone testis removal (orchiectomy), retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (RPLND), and those with spinal cord injuries.

Sperm retrieval technique is used to obtain sperm from the testes or epididymis when obstruction, congenital absence of the vas deferens, failed vasectomy reversal, or inadequate sperm production causes azoospermia. Using a technique called micro epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA), a surgeon makes an incision in the scrotum and gathers sperm from the epididymis, the elongated, coiled duct that provides for the maturation, storage, and passage of sperm from the testes. Percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA, or fine needle aspiration) is similar to MESA but does not involve microsurgery. A physician uses a needle to penetrate the scrotum and epididymis and draws sperm into a syringe. Testicular sperm extraction (TESE), the removal of a small amount of testicular tissue, is used to retrieve sperm from men with impaired sperm production, or when MESA fails. These procedures are done under local anesthesia, usually take about 30 minutes, and may cause pain and swelling.

Sperm washing isolates and prepares the healthiest sperm for insemination. Sperm and washing medium are combined and spun rigorously (centrifuged) and the process is repeated if necessary. The process separates sperm from white blood cells and fatty acids (prostaglandins) in the semen that may hinder sperm motility. It also concentrates sperm, which increases the chance for conception.

Sperm retrieved by MESA, PESA, or TESE may be used in in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). IVF involves combining eggs with sperm in a laboratory, providing proper fertilization conditions, and transferring the resulting embryos to the uterus. To retrieve an egg, a specialist uses ultrasound to guide a fine needle through the vaginal wall and into the ovary or makes an incision in the abdomen to get to the ovary (laparoscopy). Once the eggs are retrieved, they are combined with prepared sperm in a sterile dish for 2 to 4 days. After fertilization, the embryos are transferred to the uterus. IVF is used most commonly for infertility caused by female reproductive abnormalities.

Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be used with immotile sperm during in vitro fertilization. Using a tiny glass needle, one sperm is injected directly into a retrieved mature egg. The egg is incubated and transferred to the uterus. Fertilization occurs in 50% to 80% of cases and approximately 30% result in a live birth. The egg may fail to divide or the embryo may arrest at an early stage of development. Younger patients achieve more favorable results and poor egg quality and advanced maternal age result in lower success rates.

While excess sperm from MESA or PESA can usually be frozen for future use, most TESE-derived sperm are not of sufficient quality or quantity for frozen storage (cryopreservation). Multiple MESA or PESA procedures are not recommended, since repetition can lead to scarring.

Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT): This procedure is recommended for couples with unexplained fertility problems and normal reproductive anatomy. Mature eggs and prepared sperm are combined in a syringe and injected into the fallopian tube using laparascopy. Embryos that result from this procedure naturally descend into the uterus for implantation.

More information on infertility

What is infertility? - Infertility is the inability to achieve and/or maintain pregnancy. Infertility may due to a variety of causes, including abnormal hormonal levels, low sperm production and scarring of the fallopian tubes.
What causes infertility in men? - The most common male infertility factors include azoospermia and oligospermia. In rare cases, infertility in men is caused by a genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or a chromosomal abnormality.
What causes infertility in women? - The most common female infertility factor is an ovulation disorder. Other causes of female infertility include blocked fallopian tubes. Inability of the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus will lead to female infertility.
What causes infertility? - Causes of infertility include a wide range of physical as well as emotional factors. Infertility can be caused by any interruption in the usual process of fertilization, pregnancy, and birth.
How is infertility diagnosed? - In the male, sperm examination and sperm count is commonly done. In females, the basal body temperature is recorded each morning over several months to find any ovulatory disorders.
What female fertility tests are available? - Blood tests that measure the levels of various hormones. The doctor may want to measure the man's testosterone levels to see if they are high enough. Basal body temperature (BBT) can be measured at home using a special thermometer to help predict the most fertile days.
What male tertility tests are available? - A semen analysis is the most common testing procedure for determining if there is a male infertility factor. Semen analysis is the mainstay of male testing.
What treatments are available to cure infertility? - The ultimate goal of infertility treatment is a healthy pregnancy and the birth of one healthy infant. There are various treatments for infertility, depending what the problem is.
What is assisted reproductive technology (ART)? - Assisted reproductive technologies are medical treatments to overcome infertility. The most common type of ART is in vitro fertilization.
What are the treatments for female infertility? - Assisted reproductive technology (ART) combines the use of fertility drugs - hormonal therapy with artificial insemination using any of a group of techniques. Acupuncture may also be helpful.
What medicines treat female infertility? - Clomiphene triggers the release of FSH and LH, boosting egg growth and helping the ovaries release a monthly egg. Bromocriptine suppresses a hormone called prolactin. LH-RH drugs are used when the pituitary or hypothalamus gland is not producing hormones.
What are the treatments for male infertility? - Low sperm counts can be treated by collecting and concentrating healthy sperm for insemination or assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment.
How to prevent infertility? - Most types of infertility cannot be prevented. Smoking has been linked to low sperm counts. Alcohol affects the fertility of both men and women. Excessive exercise can lead to menstrual disorders in women and affect sperm production in men.
What is in vitro fertilization (IVF)? - In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process used to conceive a child outside the body. In vitro fertilization is a method of assisted reproduction that involves removing eggs from a woman's ovary, combining the egg with sperm in a dish and replacing the resulting embryos in the woman's uterus.
What is intrauterine insemination (IUI)? - Intrauterine insemination is a procedure in which a fine catheter is inserted through the cervix into the uterus to deposit a sperm sample directly into the uterus.
What is gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT)? - Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) is an infertility treatment in which eggs are removed from a woman's ovaries, and placed in one of the fallopian tubes, along with the man's sperm.
What is intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)? - Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is an in vitro fertilisation procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg.
What is zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT)? - Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT) is technique in which a woman's egg is fertilized outside the body, then implanted in one of her fallopian tubes.
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