TV series Emmerdale has brought the reality of male infertility into the spotlight with soap character Adam Barton receiving the news last week that he has zero sperm count after failing to conceive with wife Victoria.
In the story the couple’s fertility doctor suggests that chromosome disorder Klinefelter Syndrome could be to blame for Adam’s infertility, a condition which only affects males and reduces testosterone levels.
So is there any hope of conceiving a baby in cases where there is zero sperm count? Our male fertility specialist, Dr Steve Bromage, explains what the diagnosis means and how men with zero sperm count can still father a child:
What does ‘zero sperm count’ actually mean?
Zero sperm count, known as azoospermia, means that there is no sperm in the ejaculate. So when you’re trying for a baby, although you’re ejaculating as normal, there is no sperm released to fertilise the egg – but you wouldn’t know it. The only way it’s diagnosed is through semen analysis testing.
What causes zero sperm count?
Being diagnosed with azoospermia means there’s a problem with your sperm production. There are lots of different causes of azoospermia, such as a blockage preventing sperm getting into the ejaculate, and as Emmerdale has said, certain conditions such as Klinefelter Syndrome.
Does zero sperm count mean you can’t be a father?
We’ve helped many men to become fathers, even when there’s no sperm in a sample. Just because there is no sperm in the ejaculate doesn’t mean sperm isn’t being made.
Through tests and examinations, we can pinpoint whether the issue is a blockage that can be surgically reversed – so sperm can be released in the ejaculate – or whether the best option is to find usable sperm from within the testis.
If you’ve been diagnosed with azoospermia it’s important to be evaluated by a urologist with specific expertise in male fertility problems, so the most appropriate treatment technique can be identified for your specific cause.
What fertility treatment is there for zero sperm count?
If there is a reversible blockage, treatment is surgical to restore ejaculation of sperm. If we need to try to recover sperm directly from the testis, treatment is a highly-specialised procedure called Surgical Sperm Retrieval (SSR).
There are different SSR techniques we use, including Testicular Sperm Extraction (TESE), all with the aim of retrieving sperm that can be used in fertility treatment for you and your partner. TESE involves extracting sperm cells from within testicular tissues, and would typically be an option in the case of men with Klinefelter Syndrome.
What are the chances of pregnancy using surgically-retrieved sperm?
The goal of fertility treatment in cases of zero sperm count is always to give you the highest chance of conceiving using your own sperm.
Any sperm recovered through SSR techniques is typically frozen, so we can evaluate it for viability before any fertility treatment cycle begins. The amount of sperm retrieved is typically low, and so a variation of IVF – known as Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection or ICSI – is used. It’s where a single, healthy sperm is injected directly into the egg to fertilise it.
Pregnancy chances following SSR depends on a number of factors, including the quality of retrieved sperm, and crucially the quality of eggs being fertilised.
What if SSR fails?
If your own sperm can’t be used then donor sperm still gives you the chance to be a father. At Manchester Fertility we have UK donor sperm available now with no waiting list through our sperm bank. You’ll be given a choice of health-screened, UK sperm donors for use in your fertility treatment, and both you and your partner will be supported every step of the way by our entire clinic team, including our dedicated Donation Team and counsellors.
Male infertility: Where to get help
If you’re concerned about your fertility, you can book in for a private fertility check. Fertility MOT involves semen analysis, where your semen is examined in our laboratory to look at sperm motility, sperm count and mobility. If an issue is found, you’ll be referred to our male fertility specialists so the right treatment plan can be devised that gives you the best chance of a baby using your own sperm.
Image from https://www.itv.com/emmerdale
Last updated: 20th January 2020