A varicocele is a term used to describe abnormal enlargement of the veins within the scrotum. The veins carry blood from the various body organs back to the heart. Typically, veins have valves that prevent blood backflow. When the valves in the veins within the scrotum don’t work as they should, blood tends to collect in the scrotum, leading to varicoceles.
While varicocele is very common, it is not life-threatening. In fact, research shows that about 15 percent of all adult men have varicocele. For most men, the condition will go unnoticed throughout their life or does not cause any complications. Although the condition is not dangerous, varicocele is a common cause of low sperm production and reduced sperm quality, leading to infertility. Varicoceles can also lead to reduced testosterone production and scrotal discomfort. The condition often does not need treatment until there is a reason for concern about the associated problems. Fortunately, varicocele is easy to diagnose and treat.
How do Varicoceles Affect the Testis?
While numerous theories exist, medical experts agree that varicoceles cause the veins to carry warm blood from the abdomen down to the testis. Generally, the testis functions properly at around three degrees below the average body temperature. As such, warmblood can affect the testis’ ability to produce testosterone and sperm.
Symptoms of Varicoceles
Most often, Varicoceles have no symptoms or signs. As mentioned earlier, you will barely notice it. However, although rarely, the condition might cause pain. When it does cause pain, it might;
- Switch from a sharp to a dull discomfort
- Become worse over the day
- Increase when due to physical exertion or standing for extended periods
- Pain that goes away when you lie on your back
- Impaired infertility
Over time, varicoceles may become more enlarged and become noticeable. Varicoceles are often described as looking like a “bag of worms” sometimes, the condition may also cause a swollen testicle, most often on the left side.
When Should You Seek a Doctor?
Since symptoms do not accompany varicocele, it often does not require treatment. In some cases, varicoceles are discovered during a fertility evaluation. However, you should see a doctor if you notice any of the following.
- Pain or swelling in the scrotum
- Discover a mass on the scrotum
- You are having a problem with your fertility
- When you notice that one of your testicles is larger than the other
Possible Complications with Varicoceles
Unfortunately, although the condition is not life-threatening, it can also lead to several unpleasant complications.
Atrophy (shrinking of the affected testicles)
The testicles are made of sperm-producing tubules. Varicoceles damage these tubules, making the testicles soften and shrink.
The condition also causes the local temperature around or in the testicles to be too high, affecting sperm formation.
Causes of Varicoceles
Medical practitioners are not sure of the leading cause of varicoceles. However, doctors agree that the condition forms when there is a problem with blood flow in the spermatic cord. The problem develops when the valves in the veins do not function properly and allows blood to flow back. As a result, blood pools in the veins causing them to dilate. When the condition is common in adults, it can also develop in teens during puberty. The testicles usually require more blood than usual during this growth cycle. This condition can lead to problems in the veins, preventing the blood from flowing where it should.
Your doctor will perform a thorough physical examination, which might reveal a non-tender mass above the testicles. When the mass is large enough, it feels like a bag of worms. When the varicocele is small, the doctor might request you to stand, take a deep breath and hold it while you bear down. This technique will help the doctor to detect any abnormal veins enlargement. Your doctor may also order a scrotal ultrasound. The test uses high-frequency sound waves to create a precise image of the structure of the scrotum. The test is also helpful in helping the doctor rule out other reasons that could be causing the problem in the scrotum.
Treatments for Varicocele
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