A man looks out a window.

If you’re struggling with male infertility, there are a number of avenues you and your partner can explore to improve your chance of getting pregnant. Sperm retrieval — recommended for men who have little to no sperm or who have trouble ejaculating — is just one approach. Read on to learn how the procedure works and if it could be a solution for you.

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When to Consider Surgical Sperm Retrieval

Normally, sperm is contained in a man’s semen and is released during ejaculation. But, according to the Urology Care Foundation, some men don’t make sperm and others have such low levels of sperm that they don’t appear in their ejaculate. In some cases, a health condition — such as damage from a hernia or a blocked ejaculatory duct — can cause fertility issues. You also won’t produce sperm if you’ve had a vasectomy, which prevents sperm from being released into semen.

All of these sperm issues fall into one of two categories:

  • Obstructive azoospermia: Sperm are produced normally, but a blockage in the reproductive tubing stops the sperm from being released from your body.
  • Nonobstructive azoospermia: Your reproductive tubes are open, but your body either isn’t making sperm or is making very low amounts.

Your specific diagnosis, among other factors, will help determine which sperm retrieval technique your doctor recommends.

Types of Sperm Retrieval

Before deciding which procedure is right for you, your doctor will conduct blood work, analyze your levels of testosterone and follicle-stimulating hormone, and evaluate the size and consistency of your testicles. They’ll also consider your health status and medical history.

Options for sperm removal include:

  • Percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration: During this nonsurgical procedure, a doctor pushes a small needle through the scrotal skin into the head of the epididymis, a tube that carries sperm and that coils behind each testicle. The doctor withdraws fluid, which an embryologist then examines and removes sperm cells from it.
  • Microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration: A surgeon opens the small tubes of the epididymis to search for viable sperm.
  • Testicular sperm aspiration: A surgeon inserts a needle further into the testis to remove fluid and tissue, which they then examine for viable sperm.
  • Testicular sperm extraction: A surgeon removes tissue from the testis to find viable sperm. Your doctor may recommend this method if testicular sperm aspiration is unsuccessful.

Recovering from Surgical Sperm Retrieval

Recovery time usually ranges from a couple of days to a week, depending on the procedure. The most common side effects are pain and soreness. In some instances, there may be bleeding and, as with any surgery, infection is a risk. There are also times when your doctor is unable to find sperm. Your doctor will likely advise you to avoid extreme physical activity and to ice the area. You may also be prescribed pain medicine.

If you and your partner are interested in learning more about sperm removal procedures or testing for male infertility, visit the UPMC Men’s Health Center or call 1-877-641-4636(4MEN) to make an appointment.





About Men’s Health Center

The UPMC Men’s Health Center evaluates and treats conditions affecting men’s sexual and reproductive health. With years of clinical experience in male sexual medicine and surgery, our team has treated a wide variety of conditions and performed thousands of surgeries. We are dedicated to providing patients the highest level of quality care. Our providers understand the intimate nature of male sexual difficulties, and we will work to help you restore your normal level of sexual function in a comfortable, educational, and discreet environment.