A varicocele is a widening of the veins along the spermatic cord. This cord holds up a man's testicles .
Alternative NamesVaricose veins - scrotum
A varicocele forms when valves inside the veins along the spermatic cord prevent blood from flowing properly. This causes the blood to backup, which leads 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, and may not cause symptoms. They are more common in men between 15 and 25 years old and are most often seen on the left side of the scrotum. Varicoceles are often the cause of infertility in men.
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.
- Visible, enlarged, twisted veins in the scrotum
- A painless testicle lump, scrotal swelling, or bulge within the scrotum
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will examine the groin area, including the scrotum and testicles. The doctor may be able to feel a non-tender, twisted mass along the spermatic cord. (It feels like a bag of worms.)
However, the mass may not be able to be seen or felt, especially when lying down.
The testicle on the side of the varicocele may be smaller than the one on the other side.
A scrotal support (jock strap) pr snug underwear may provide some relief of the pain or discomfort. However, if pain continues or other symptoms occur, further treatment may be needed.
Surgery to correct a varicocele is called a varicocelectomy. The surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis. You will receive some type of numbing medication (anesthesia). The urologist will make a cut, usually in the lower abdomen, and tie off the abnormal vein. Blood will now flow around the area, into normal veins. You should keep an ice pack on the area for the first 24 hours after surgery to reduce swelling.
An alternative to surgery is varicocele embolization. This method is also done on an outpatient basis. However, it uses a much smaller cut that surgery, so you heal faster. A small hollow tube called a catheter (tube) is placed into a vein in your groin or neck area. Using x-rays as a guide, the health care provider moves the tube into the varicocele. A tiny coil passes through the tube, into the varicocele. The coil blocks blood flow to the bad vein, and sends it to normal veins.
After the procedures, you will be told to place ice on the area and wear a scrotal support for a little while. Complications from treatment may include blood clot formation, infection, or injury to the scrotal tissue or nearby blood vessel.
A varicocele is usually harmless and often requires no treatment. If surgery is required because of infertility or testicular atrophy, the outlook is usually excellent.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you discover a testicle lump or need to treat a diagnosed varicocele.