A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum. These veins are called the pampiniform plexus.
What is a Varicocele?
A varicocele only occurs in the scrotum and is very similar to varicose veins that can occur in the leg. A varicocele can result in decreased sperm production and quality, which in some cases can lead to infertility. It can also shrink the testicles.
Varicoceles are common. They can be found in 15 percent of the adult male population and around 20 percent of adolescent males.
They’re more common in males aged 15 to 25.
Varicoceles generally form during puberty and are more commonly found on the left side of your scrotum. The anatomy of the right and left side of your scrotum isn’t the same. Varicoceles can exist on both sides, but it’s extremely rare. Not all varicoceles affect sperm production.
Gravity can cause varicocele. The veins are fitted with valves that are meant to keep blood flowing towards the heart and stop it from flowing backwards.
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Most often, the cause of varicoceles cannot be found. It can be associated with increased abdominal pressure or blockage of the vein, particularly on the left due to kidney problems. Varicocele may be implicated in some types of male infertility.
In older men, a blockage of larger veins in the tummy can cause a varicocele in the scrotum. This is only likely to happen in men aged over 40. It can be a sign that a tumour of the kidney has developed.
Book a consultation with one of our highly experienced BUA urologists. They will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis.
When one of our doctors examines you they will most likely be able to feel the swollen veins in your scrotum. You may need a referred for a colour Doppler ultrasound scan to confirm the diagnosis. Men over 40 are likely to have other tests because of the link with tumour such as kidney cancers.
Often varicoceles don’t need treatment. However, there are some notable exceptions. Persistent discomfort is a good reason, particularly if you do a lot of standing in your job. It’s now generally accepted that varicoceles heat up the nether regions and affect sperm production. In young infertile men who meet certain criteria, removing the varicocele can help to restore fertility.
Teenagers in whom the testicle is demonstrated to be getting smaller may also benefit from treatment to prevent fertility reduction. The treatment is to tie the enlarged veins off or inject them with a substance to make them shrink. Sometimes, the veins left behind also enlarge, so you may have to repeat the treatment. Another method of treatment is to use a special substance injected into the veins to block them. Both methods are usually successful.
Your BUA Urologist will advise you on the pros and cons of the different techniques in your case.