What Is a Sperm Aspiration?

Marlene Garcia

Sperm aspiration represents an infertility procedure considered simpler and less expensive than in-vitro fertilization. The process uses a thin needle to extract sperm from the testicles or the epididymis, a small organ near the testes where sperm is stored in tiny tubes. Once live, healthy sperm is obtained, it is injected into a woman’s egg in a laboratory to see if an embryo develops.

Sperm aspiration is a type of fertility treatment in which sperm is removed directly from a male’s testicles using a needle.
Sperm aspiration is a type of fertility treatment in which sperm is removed directly from a male’s testicles using a needle.

The procedure was developed in Belgium to treat men who want to father a child, but suffer from low sperm count or weak sperm unsuitable for in-vitro fertilization, which typically requires millions of healthy sperm. Sperm aspiration might also be successful after a vasectomy, which severs tubes transporting sperm from the testes. Deformities of the vas deferens caused by birth defects, botched surgery, or scar tissue might also obstruct the delivery of sperm in semen.

Sperm aspiration allows healthy sperm to be injected into an extracted ovum.
Sperm aspiration allows healthy sperm to be injected into an extracted ovum.

A sole male sperm obtained through sperm aspiration can be used in intra-cyloplasmic sperm injection procedures. In a laboratory setting, fertility experts inject the healthy sperm into an egg extracted from a female. If the process is successful, an embryo can be identified within two or three days, and non-surgically placed into the woman’s uterus. Any extra sperm or embryos can be frozen for later use.

Fine needle sperm aspiration is considered painless and fast, with almost immediate recovery for the patient. It might be used when vasectomy reversal surgery is unsuccessful or when a man cannot ejaculate because of spinal injury. Vasectomy reversal operations often fail, especially if performed long ago. The quality of sperm might also deteriorate over time.

Before researchers developed sperm aspiration techniques, men underwent more expensive surgeries to remove live sperm from the testes or vas deferens. These operations usually required a hospital stay and longer recovery time. Microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration done in a clinic under local anesthetic is considered the most effective and safest, but the procedure is not available in all regions.

In this procedure, a small cut is made in the scrotum, and a tiny microscope allows the surgeon to view tubes containing sperm. Fluid is extracted to measure the number and quality of sperm available. If none are found or the sperm are dead, another area can be explored.

In a less expensive form of sperm aspiration, the doctor inserts a needle into epididymis pockets hoping to find live sperm. This is considered a blind search because it is done without a microscope to guide the doctor. Complications might arise during this procedure if a blood vessel is pierced.

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