A varicocele is a widening of the veins along the spermatic cord that holds up a man's testicles. A varicocele forms when valves inside these veins prevent blood from flowing properly. This causes the blood to back up, leading to swelling and widening of the veins. (This is essentially the same process that leads to varicose veins, which are common in the legs.)
Varicoceles usually develop slowly. They are more common in men ages 15 - 25 and are most often seen on the left side of the scrotum. The sudden appearance of a varicocele in an older man may be caused by a kidney tumor, which can block blood flow to a vein.
If you have a varicocele, you may notice:
- Enlarged, twisted veins in the scrotum
- Painless testicle lump, scrotal swelling or bulge in the scrotum
Your Ohio State urologist will examine the groin area, including the scrotum and testicles. The urologist may feel a twisted growth along the spermatic cord. This growth may not be able to be seen or felt, when the patient is lying down. The testicle on one side of the Varicocele may be smaller than the testicle on the other side.
A varicocele is usually harmless and may not need treatment. A "jock strap" (scrotal support) or snug underwear may help relieve the pain or discomfort. If pain continues or other symptoms occur, you may need further treatment. Surgical treatment may increase sperm count but may not increase the likelihood of getting a woman pregnant. In most cases, testicular wasting (atrophy) does not improve unless surgery is done early in adolescence.
Surgery and Other Options
Varicocelectomy is surgery to correct a varicocele. It involves the use of numbing medication and a small cut, usually in the lower abdomen, to tie off the abnormal veins. This allows blood to flow around the area into normal veins.
Varicocele embolization involves a small tube placed in the vein that is guided by X-ray. A tiny coil passes through the tube into the varicocele. The coil blocks blood flow to the bad vein, and sends blood to normal veins.