Men who don’t have sperm in their semen have a condition called azoospermia. It happens to about 1% of all men and 15% of infertile men. There aren’t really any symptoms that you’d notice, but if you’ve been trying to get your partner pregnant without success, this condition could be the cause.
What Causes It?
You might have a problem that keeps your testicles from making sperm or that stops sperm from getting out of your body. There are three main types of azoospermia:
Pretesticular azoospermia: Your testicles are normal, but your body can’t get them to make sperm. It might happen because of low hormone levels or after you’ve had chemotherapy. This type is pretty rare.
Testicular azoospermia: Damage to your testicles keeps them from making sperm normally. It can happen because of:
- An infection in your reproductive tract, such as epididymitis and urethritis
- A childhood illness such as viral orchitis, which causes swelling of one or both testicles
- A groin injury
- Cancer or its treatments, like radiation
- Genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter’s syndrome
Post-testicular azoospermia: Your testicles make normal sperm, but something keeps them from getting out, like:
- A blockage in the tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your penis. This is called obstructive azoospermia.
- A vasectomy
- Retrograde ejaculation, when semen goes into your bladder instead of out of your penis during an orgasm
About 40% of men with azoospermia have the post-testicular type.
How Do You Know if You Have Azoospermia?
If you’ve been trying without luck to get your partner pregnant, your doctor might check you for this condition.
First, you’ll give samples of your semen, and a lab will examine them with a high-powered microscope. If the results show no sperm in your semen on two separate occasions, then you’ve got azoospermia.
Your doctor may also want to do a biopsy on one or both of your testicles to check for signs of abnormal sperm. She’ll give you medicine to numb the area, then make a small cut in your scrotum and get a bit of tissue to study under a microscope.
Vasography, an imaging test using an X-ray and special dye, and other scans can show if you have a blockage that’s causing azoospermia. Sometimes, surgery is the only way to find the obstruction.
If you don’t have a blockage, genetic tests can find out if you have a problem in your genes.
Treatments and Your Fertility
There are a few types of treatment that can help men with azoospermia who want to have children.
If you have the obstructive type, surgery can remove the blockage. The more recent your blockage, the more likely it is that the surgery will be successful. If you’ve had one for less than 3 years, the chance of restoring your sperm flow is 97%, and the chance of getting a woman pregnant is 76%.
Sperm retrieval can help men with nonobstructive azoospermia or those who have a blockage but don’t want surgery. One way to do this is to use a tiny needle to draw sperm from a testicle. Then, you can freeze the sample to use later in in vitro fertilization (IVF).
If you have a testicular biopsy, your doctor can retrieve sperm at the same time, so you won’t need a second surgery.