A varicocele is a varicose vein of the testicle and scrotum that may cause pain, testicular atrophy (shrinkage), or fertility problems. Veins contain one-way valves that work to allow blood to flow from the testicles and scrotum back to the heart. When these valves fail, the blood pools and enlarges the veins around the testicle in the scrotum to cause a varicocele. Choose from the following to learn more:
- Approximately ten percent of all men have varicoceles—among infertile couples, the incidence of
varicoceles increases to 30 percent
- Highest occurrence in men aged 15 – 35
- As many as 70 – 80,000 men in America may undergo surgical correction of varicocele annually
- Pain – Aching pain when an individual has been standing or sitting for long periods of time and pressure builds up in the affected veins. Typically, painful varicoceles are prominent in size.
- Fertility Problems – There is an association between varicoceles and infertility. The incidence of varicocele increases to 30 percent in infertile couples. Decreased sperm count, decreased motility of sperm, and an increase in the number of deformed sperm are related to varicoceles. Some experts believe that these blocked and enlarged veins around the testes cause infertility by raising the temperature in the scrotum and decreasing sperm production.
- Testicular Atrophy – Shrinking of the testicles is another sign of varicoceles. Often, once repaired, it will return to normal size.
Diagnosis is fairly simple and is done through either physical or diagnostic examination.
- Typical on left side of scrotum
- Visual physical exam – scrotum looks like a “bag of worms”
- Testicle can shrink in size (atrophy)
- When varicoceles are not clearly present, the abnormal blood flow can often be detected with a non-invasive imaging exam, called color flow ultrasound; or through a venogram, an X-ray in which a special dye is injected into the veins to “highlight” blood vessel abnormalities
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