A varicocele is a widening of the veins along the cord that holds up a man's testicles (spermatic cord).
A varicocele forms when valves inside the veins along the spermatic cord 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. 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.
There may not be symptoms.
The health care provider will examine the groin area, including the scrotum and testicles. The doctor may be able to feel a nontender, 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) or snug underwear may provide some relief of the pain or discomfort. 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. 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 than 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:
Indications for Varicocele repair should be discussed with your provider on an individual basis. These are often repaired for patients who are having pain or discomfort, for those who present with asymmetric growth of the testicles, or for patients who are having problems with fertility.