Background: Infections of the genital tract are considered common causes of male fertility disorders, with a prevalence of 6-10%. Most of the affected men are asymptomatic. The diagnostic evaluation is based mainly on laboratory testing. Inconsistent diagnostic criteria have been applied to date, and this may explain the controversial debate about the role of infection and inflammation in the genital tract as a cause of infertility. The risk of an irreversible fertility disorder should not be underestimated.
Methods: This review is based on pertinent publications retrieved by a selective literature search in PubMed, including guidelines from Germany and abroad and systematic review articles.
Results: The main causes of inflammatory disease of the male genital tract are ascending sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and uropathogens. Chronic prostatitis has no more than a limited influence on ejaculate variables. By contrast, approximately 10% of men who have had acute epididymitis develop persistent azoospermia thereafter, and 30% have oligozoospermia. Obstruction of the excurrent ducts can ensue, as can post-infectious disturbances of spermatogenesis. The differential diagnostic evaluation includes the determination of testicular volumes, hormone concentrations, and ejaculate variables. Epidemiological data are lacking with regard to infertility after primary orchitis of infectious origin; however, up to 25% of testicular biopsies obtained from infertile men reveal focal inflammatory reactions. Multiple studies have suggested a deleterious effect of leukocytes and inflammatory mediators on sperm para - meters. On the other hand, the clinical significance of bacteriospermia remains unclear.
Conclusion: Any suspicion of an infectious or inflammatory disease in the male genital tract should prompt a systematic diagnostic evaluation and appropriate treatment. For patients with obstructive azoospermia, the etiology and site of the obstruction determine the surgical approach to be taken. In the near future, the elucidation of underlying pathophysiological mechanisms and the identification of suitable biomarkers may enable new strategies for conservative treatment.