How do I know if I have a Varicocele?

How is Varicocele treated?

Who treats a Varicocele?

Overview for informational purposes. Treatment is by a Urologist, not a vein specialist.

Doctors discussing varicocele treatment
Varicocele treatment is done by a Urologist

Varicocele Treatment – A varicocele (VAR-ih-koe-seel) is a medical condition that affects the scrotum. It can lead to low sperm production and decreased sperm quality, potentially causing infertility. The majority of varicoceles develop over time and are easy to diagnose. A varicocele occurs in approximately 1 in 8 men and it is usually first noticed between the ages of 12 to 28.

A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins in the open area above the testicles.  These veins are called the pampiniform plexus. It is similar to a varicose vein you might see in your leg except that it develops in the loose sack of skin than houses the testicles.

While not all varicoceles will affect sperm production, they can cause testicles to shrink or to fail to develop normally. Physicians are very good at diagnosing varicoceles and developing effective treatment plans. If you are experiencing pain or any other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Often the condition can be repaired surgically.

Signs and Symptoms of Varicoceles

An enlarged vein in the scrotum will often produce no signs or symptoms. In rare instances, it might cause pain.

The pain can:

  1. be sharp and stabbing or be a dull discomfort
  2. feel worse when standing or during physical activities, especially when done over long periods of time
  3. get worse over the length of the day
  4. improve when lying on your back
  5. impair fertility

Over time, varicoceles may become more enlarged, making them more noticeable. Some in the field compare the feeling of a varicocele to a bag of worms. The swollen veins lead to the swelling of the testicles, nearly always on the left.

When should I see a doctor?

Since a varicocele usually does not cause any symptoms, it rarely requires intervention. Routine physical exams reveal varicoceles .

However, in some instances, men experience symptoms such as pain or swelling in the scrotum. If this is the situation in your case you should contact a healthcare provider right away. Don’t wait. You should also arrange a consultation if you discover that your testicles are different sizes, notice a mass on your scrotum or if you are having fertility problems. There are a number of conditions that can cause testicular pain or a scrotal mass. Some of them require immediate treatment. If you developed a varicocele in your youth, you should keep a close eye out for any potential changes to the condition of your testicles.

Causes of Varicocele

A picture representing a male between 12-28.
Most commonly affects men 12-28 years old.

Inside of your scrotum, the spermatic cord carries blood to and from your testicles. A varicocele forms when the veins in the spermatic cord become enlarged, possibly leading to other health problems. While still not completely understood, many experts believe that a varicocele forms when the valves inside the veins become damaged. The valves are designed to keep the blood flowing in the proper direction. When not working properly, they can stop the blood from flowing correctly and cause a backup or blood pooling. The additional pressure on the veins will cause them to widen (dilate), potentially causing damage to your testicles and possibly resulting in infertility.

Varicoceles are more likely to occur during puberty. Due to the position of the left testicular vein, varicoceles usually occur on the left side.

What are the risk factors?

Studies have not revealed any significant risk factors for developing a varicocele.

What are the Potential Complications of a Varicocele?

A varicocele can lead to potentially serious complications:

  • Testicular Atrophy: The affected testicle may shrink. The vast majority of the testicle’s mass is made up of sperm-producing tubules. A varicocele has the potential to damage the testicle, causing it to shrink and soften. It is not fully understood why the testicles shrink. Many experts believe that malfunctioning valves in the veins allow blood to build up, resulting in increased pressure on the vein walls. This can squeeze the surrounding tissue or expose the testicles to toxins found in the blood, causing testicular damage.
  • Infertility: Varicoceles may elevate the the local temperature in or around the testicle, affecting the formation of sperm, its ability to move, and its ability to function.

Diagnosing a Varicocele

What should you expect when you go to your doctor with symptoms of a varicocele? Your healthcare provider will likely conduct a physical exam. He or she will examine the area. The inspection may turn up a mass above your testicle. A varicocele will not be tender but may feel like a bag of worms. If its size is large enough, your healthcare provider will likely be able to feel it.

If he or she can not find it easily, your healthcare provider may ask you to stand up, hold in a deep breath and bear down (also called the Valsalva maneuver). This will help your doctor to detect any abnormal enlargement of the veins.

If your doctor’s exam is not conclusive, he or she might order an imaging test, most likely a scrotal ultrasound. Ultrasound imaging techniques use high-frequency sound waves to create a precise picture of tissue within your body. This should help narrow down the possible causes of your condition and hopefully rule out any more serious reasons for your symptoms. Depending on the results, some further imaging testing might be recommended to eliminate the possibility of other causes for the varicocele, such as a dangerous tumor pressing on the spermatic vein. The treating physician is usually a Urologist.

Treating a Varicocele

Picture of a Doctor reviewing Varicocele tests.
Urologists treat Varicoceles.

Not all varicoceles need treatment. Many men live with varicoceles without any symptoms. They are able to father children and do not feel any discomfort. However, if your varicocele is causing you pain, or any of the following conditions, you should consider treatment.

  • testicular atrophy (shrinking testicle),
  • infertility (inability to father a child) or
  • if you are considering assisted reproductive techniques

The purpose of surgical treatment, if recommended, is to isolate the affected vein and redirect the blood flow into normal veins.

How To Prevent Varicocele?

There are so many ways to prevention Varicocele, here are some of them. Make sure you follow them well so that you don’t have to deal with such annoying problems ever again!

  1. Drink Plenty Of Water

If you drink a lot of water then your blood isn’t going to thicken. Thickening of blood us one of the most common causes of Varicocele, which means if you drink less water then you are more likely to develop this problem. Drinking plenty of water doesn’t only prevents blood thickening but flushes toxins from your body and keeps you healthy and active as well! Which are some good reasons you should start drinking at least 8 glasses of water everyday.

  • Quit Smoking

Did you know smoking badly effects your vascular health? Smoking blocks your veins by producing plaque in them which makes it hard for your veins to circulate the blood throughout the body. Smoking also narrows your veins which prevents your organs to get sufficient amount of blood, which is also one cause of Varicocele. If you smoke and are facing varicocele then you better stop it right now and start thinking about your vascular health. Continuing smoking will only lead to a healthy lifestyle and body.

  • Regular Exercises

Everyday exercises help your veins circulate blood more easily, because it keeps your veins healthy and prevents the thickening of blood, which makes daily activities and exercises a good option to prevent vein problems like Varicocele. So try your best to be active everyday! But this doesn’t mean you have to hit gym everyday and do heavy exercises. You can do normal activities like running, walking, or swimming and still prevent Varicolcele with ease. Just make sure you move often and don’t live a sedentary life, you will easily save yourself from any kind of vein problems.

How does varicocele differ from other conditions affecting the male reproductive system?

Varicocele differs from other conditions affecting the male reproductive system in terms of its specific characteristics, causes, and impact. Here are some key distinctions:

1.  Varicocele:

   –  Definition:  Varicocele is a condition characterized by the enlargement of veins within the scrotum, similar to varicose veins.

   –  Location:  It primarily affects the veins within the spermatic cord, which houses the vessels that supply blood to the testicles.

   –  Impact on Blood Flow:  Varicocele can disrupt normal blood flow to the testicles, potentially leading to elevated testicular temperature and impacting sperm production.

2.  Testicular Torsion:

   –  Definition:  Testicular torsion occurs when the spermatic cord twists, leading to a reduced blood supply to the testicle.

   –  Location:  It involves the twisting of the spermatic cord, leading to a sudden and severe reduction in blood flow to the testicle.

   –  Emergency Condition:  Testicular torsion is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical intervention to restore blood flow and prevent testicular damage.

Can varicocele recur after treatment, and what factors contribute to recurrence?

Yes, varicocele can recur after treatment, although the recurrence rate varies. Several factors contribute to the recurrence of varicocele after treatment, and these factors include:

  1.  Surgical Technique:  The choice of surgical technique can influence the likelihood of recurrence. Some surgical methods are associated with lower recurrence rates than others. Common surgical approaches include open surgery (ligation) and minimally invasive procedures (such as laparoscopic or microsurgical varicocelectomy).
  2.  Skill and Experience of the Surgeon:  The experience and skill of the surgeon performing the procedure are crucial. Surgeons with expertise in varicocele repair are generally associated with lower recurrence rates.
  3.  Number of Veins Treated:  Varicoceles can involve different veins within the spermatic cord. In cases where multiple veins contribute to the varicocele, addressing all affected veins during treatment is important to reduce the risk of recurrence.