A varicocele is an enlarged vein — similar to the varicose vein in your leg — that develops in your scrotum. Your scrotum is the loose bag of skin that holds your testicles. These oval-shaped organs make and store sperm and produce the male hormone testosterone. When you have varicoceles, they interfere with blood flow. This can affect your testicular health and even cause infertility.
At New Jersey’s leading center for male reproductive health in Millburn, New Jersey, Dr. Eric K. Seaman offers a wide range of services, including varicocele diagnosis and treatment. If you recognize any of these signs, Dr. Seaman can provide solutions.
Signs of varicocele
Varicoceles typically form while you’re going through puberty. In most cases, they occur on the left side of your scrotum. The exact cause of varicoceles isn’t known, but it’s likely due to malfunctioning valves inside your spermatic cord. Your spermatic cord manages blood flow to and from your testicles.
When the valves malfunction, your blood can’t flow correctly, making it pool in your veins. This can lead cause several issues, including pain, low testosterone, testicle shrinkage, and infertility.
A varicocele doesn’t always cause discomfort. But, when it does occur, you might experience pain that:
- Ranges from mild to sharp and aching
- Increases with physical exertion or standing, especially after extended periods
- Worsens throughout the day
In many cases, varicocele pain also improves if you lie on your back.
While most men with varicocele maintain healthy testosterone levels, it’s possible to experience decreased hormone production, which can cause serious health concerns. Signs of low testosterone include:
- Increased irritability or depression
- Low energy or fatigue
- Low sex drive or sexual dysfunction
- Muscle loss or weakness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep issues
Severely low testosterone can even increase your risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Also known as atrophy, this symptom develops when a varicocele causes a testicle to shrink and soften. This is likely related to blood pooling in the veins, which increases venous pressure in your testicle. Pooling blood also exposes your testicle tissue to more toxins, causing testicular damage. If you have testicular atrophy, you may notice one of your testicles is smaller than the other.
Most men with varicoceles don’t realize they have one until they experience difficulty conceiving. That’s because they affect the performance and temperature of your testicles, which impacts sperm formation, motility, and function.
You can develop fertility issues from varicoceles of all sizes — large or small. They can also diminish sperm function in both of your testicles, even if you only have a varicocele on one side of your scrotum.
Diagnosing and treating varicocele
Dr. Seaman can diagnose varicoceles during a routine physical exam. Sometimes, your varicocele is large enough for Dr. Seaman to feel. They might even look or feel like a “bag of worms,” or he can detect them while having you hold your breath and bear down. In many cases, Dr. Seaman confirms your diagnosis with a scrotal ultrasound to check the structures within your scrotum for abnormalities.
A varicocele doesn’t always require treatment. But, if your symptoms are impacting your health or fertility, Dr. Seaman might recommend a varicocelectomy. During this simple procedure, he administers a general anesthetic to keep you comfortable while cuts and seals the problematic veins in your scrotum.
You can usually go home the same day, but you should rest and avoid physical activities for a few days while you heal. It’s also important to avoid sexual activity for a few weeks until fully recovered.
To learn more about varicoceles, contact Eric K. Seaman, MD, or schedule an appointment online today.