Your Guide to Varicocele Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

As a man, experiencing swelling in your scrotum can be not only painful, but also uncomfortable to acknowledge. However, varicoceles are a fairly common occurrence, developing in the scrotum of approximately 10 to 15 out of every 100 men. While typically harmless, this condition can cause issues with sperm quality and production if left untreated.

It is important for men to be able to recognize the most common varicocele symptoms. Keep reading to learn about the signs of a varicocele to look out for, as well as the causes, diagnostic tools, treatment options, and more. 

What is a Varicocele?

The scrotum is a skin-covered sac that holds a man’s testicles and contains veins that transport blood to the reproductive glands. Similar to varicose veins that occur in the leg, a varicocele is a swollen or enlarged vein in the testicle that is often described as looking like a bag of worms. Although varicoceles can occur on either side of the testicle, they typically develop on the left side.

What Causes a Varicocele to Develop?

Each testicle is held up by the spermatic cord, which also contains the veins, arteries, and nerves that support these glands. When these veins are working properly, they are responsible for transporting blood from the testicles to the scrotum. However, a varicocele occurs when the veins prevent blood from flowing properly. This causes the veins to widen and the testes to swell, which might damage the testicle and affect your fertility. Although the exact cause is unclear, most varicoceles develop over time and often form during puberty. 

Common Varicocele Symptoms

In many cases, you may experience no symptoms at all. Because of this, it is important to be able to recognize the most common varicocele symptoms that do occur. In addition to pain and discomfort, signs that you may be experiencing a varicocele include:

  • A lump in one of your testicles
  • Pain or swelling in your scrotum
  • Visibly enlarged or twisted veins in your scrotum
  • Pain that gets worse the longer you stand or after strenuous activity
  • Impaired fertility
  • Low testosterone

If you suspect that you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment at your nearest USOC location as soon as possible. And in the meantime, download our step-by-step checklist to learn what to do before, during, and after your appointment. 

Diagnosing a Varicocele

Because there are typically little to no varicocele symptoms, it isn’t uncommon for a man to not even be aware that he has one. Unless there are noticeable signs, or the man is experiencing problems with fertility, many varicoceles aren’t diagnosed until routine checkups. If the varicocele is large enough, a urologist will be able to detect it by feeling the testicles and looking for abnormal enlargement that feels like a bag of worms.

If the physical exam is inconclusive, then further testing may be necessary to diagnose your condition. Smaller varicoceles can typically only be detected with a Doppler ultrasound or thermography, which are used to identify the backflow of blood in the veins. A urologist might also request a scrotal ultrasound to ensure there isn’t an underlying reason for your symptoms. This ultrasound will help your urologist rule out other causes for your varicocele, such as a tumor compressing the spermatic vein. 

Varicocele Treatment Options

If left untreated, varicoceles can cause low sperm production and decreased sperm quality, which can lead to male infertility. In severe cases, a varicocele can also cause testicular damage, as the buildup of blood increases your exposure to toxins.

Fortunately, varicoceles are easily repaired with surgery or other treatment options. Your urologist will likely start by recommending a non-surgical approach, such as anti-inflammatory medications. If the varicocele continues to cause persistent pain or discomfort, then surgery might be necessary. A microsurgical varicocelectomy is typically performed because of its high success rate and low side effect risks.

Although you may experience some minor pain after the procedure, you should be able to return to normal activities in a matter of days. Because swollen veins in the scrotum can contribute to issues with male infertility, surgery is a great option for treating varicoceles. Approximately half of the men who have this surgery to correct infertility are able to conceive a child within the first year. 

Treating Varicocele Symptoms With The Urology Specialists

There’s no denying that experiencing a varicocele can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. But, the good news is that you don’t have to live with a varicocele — there are safe and effective treatment options that can help relieve your symptoms.

At Urology Specialists of the Carolinas, we offer microscopic varicocele surgery, otherwise known as a varicocelectomy. This procedure uses a high-powered surgical microscope that allows for a better view of the affected area. During the surgery, an incision will be made so your doctor can access the spermatic cord and remove accumulated blood from the testicles.

If your varicocele symptoms persist, or if you’re concerned you may be experiencing issues with sperm or testosterone production, schedule an appointment with one of our urologists. Click here to find your nearest USOC location!

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