A varicocele is a type of varicose vein that affects only men. It occurs when a varicose vein develops in the testicles or scrotum.
What are varicoceles?
Varicoceles occur in approximately 10-15% of all men, and for many they are not painful. If symptoms do appear, they range from dull discomfort to strong pain in the scrotum. For some men, this pain worsens after standing or sitting for long periods of time, after exercise, or over the course of the day.
Pain is not the only negative effect of varicoceles. Left untreated, they can cause testicular atrophy (shrinkage of the testicles).
There is also a strong association between varicoceles and male infertility. Varicoceles have been linked with decreases in sperm count and motility and increases in the number of deformed and ineffective sperm. Many experts believe the infertility appears because the blocked and swollen varicoceles raise the temperature in the scrotum, reducing sperm production.
What causes varicoceles?
In healthy veins there are one-way valves that allow blood to flow back to the heart. Patients with a varicocele may have malfunctioning valves which causes blood to flow backwards and pool in the veins in the scrotum.
What are the risk factors for varicoceles?
There are no specific risk factors for developing varicoceles, except being male.
What symptoms might indicate that you have a varicocele?
Many varicoceles display no overt symptoms. But if they do, you may experience:
A lumpy mass in one of your testicles
Visibly enlarged or twisted veins in the scrotum (often described as looking like a “bag of worms”)
Swelling of the scrotal area
Dull, recurring pain in the testicles, which may decrease when you lie on your back
When you should see a doctor?
Call our office if you:
Experience pain or swelling in the scrotal area
Notice that your testicles are different sizes
Discover a mass in your testicles
The procedures used to diagnose varicoceles are simple and painless, so don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. The advances made in recent years mean that varicoceles can be easily treated with minimally invasive procedures.