A varicocele is a male condition involving the male reproductive tract.
About one in six males will be affected by this condition. Younger males, ages 15-25, are most likely to be diagnosed with a varicocele. In infertile men, about 40 percent have been found to have a varicocele, which may be affecting their fertility. A varicocele is very similar to varicose veins that develop in the legs. The difference is that this condition is happening in the veins of the scrotum.
Many men may have a varicocele and never have any issues. They may not even be aware of the problem unless it is found by a doctor during a routine physical.
Other men may experience pain, uncomfortable pressure and infertility.
In the male reproductive tract, there are veins located right above the testicles within the scrotum. In a normally functioning man, the valves in the veins regulate the blood flow to and from the testicles. If a valve becomes defective, it can cause blood to back up in the vein. The pressure of the extra blood causes the vein to dilate, or enlarge. This is called a varicocele.
In puberty, when the testicles are rapidly growing and requiring more blood flow, a varicocele is more likely to occur. There is no way to prevent this condition from happening. In most cases, the defective valve will be located in the left testicle.
Varicoceles and Infertility
Decreased sperm quality and a low sperm production are the most common causes of male infertility. The poor blood circulation caused by a varicocele causes a rise in the temperature of the blood in that area. This, in turn, raises the temperature of the testes. When the testes are at a higher temperature, they may fail to produce sperm. In addition, the higher temperatures can destroy sperm that is created.
The first symptom a man may have of varicocele is infertility. If other symptoms do occur, they may be felt as a dull ache or just a feeling of heaviness in the testicle. Symptoms may worsen in warm weather and during and after physical activity. The testicle that contains the varicocele will be smaller than the other side. The distended vein can be felt externally by the patient or physician.
If the varicocele is not uncomfortable and is not causing infertility, treatment may not be necessary. If the patient does need to be treated, it is done as an outpatient surgery. Tying off the damaged vein can redirect the blood flow in order to encourage normal flow to the other veins. Laparoscopic options are available. Pain after surgery is usually mild and a patient can resume normal activities within two days. For infertile men, roughly half of those treated for varicocele are able to conceive within one year post-surgery.