What Is a Varicocele?

What Is a Varicocele?

Your veins transport blood from every corner of your body back toward your heart. Healthy veins usually aren’t that noticeable under your skin, but sometimes, a vein swells and becomes more visible.

Swollen leg veins are called varicose veins, and they’re the most common type. However, swollen veins can develop anywhere — including in your scrotum.

About 15% of men have enlarged veins in their scrotum, which is a condition called varicocele. Varicoceles usually aren’t serious, but they can impact your fertility or cause discomfort. 

At our office in Millburn, New Jersey, Eric Seaman, MD, specializes in urology care for men, including the diagnosis and treatment of varicoceles. Find out if you’re at risk for this common condition, and whether you should consider treatment.

Recognizing a varicocele

A varicocele is an enlarged vein in your scrotum, which is the small pouch of skin that holds your testicles. Varicoceles can appear anywhere, but they most often affect the left side and could contribute to atrophy of the left testicle.

Varicoceles typically start developing during puberty, and they can continue getting larger over time. A large varicocele might be visible under your skin, especially when you’re standing. Varicoceles can look like a bag of worms or twisted ropes.

It’s possible to have a varicocele without knowing it, because they usually don’t cause noticeable symptoms. Many men first learn they have varicoceles when they seek treatment for infertility.

Infertility could indicate varicoceles

About four in 10 men who have trouble getting their partners pregnant have varicoceles, making it one of the most common causes of male infertility.

Having a varicocele could lower your fertility because the enlarged vein could interfere with sperm production. Varicoceles could also raise the temperature in your scrotum, which also contributes to low sperm count.

In some cases, varicoceles can also cause scrotal discomfort. This discomfort may feel like a heavy sensation or a painful ache that gets worse with standing.

Treating varicoceles with varicocelectomy

Not every man with varicoceles needs treatment. But if you’re experiencing pain or you have fertility issues, Dr. Seaman may recommend treatment with varicocelectomy.

Variocelectomy is an outpatient surgery to close off enlarged veins in your scrotum. It’s a safe, effective surgery that typically results in a 60-80% improvement in semen analysis.

If you undergo varicocelectomy, we administer general anesthesia to keep you comfortable. The procedure takes 1-2 hours, and you can go home after it’s over.

Dr. Seaman makes small incisions in your abdomen to access the enlarged veins. With specialized surgical instruments, he cuts the varicoceles and seals the ends to stop blood flow.

As your body heals, it absorbs the closed veins. Blood flow to your scrotum naturally increases to improve fertility and relieve any other symptoms you experienced.

You’ll need to refrain from sexual activity for one week after varicocelectomy. Dr. Seaman monitors your recovery and tells you when you can resume your usual activities.

Every couple is different, but your chances of fathering a child should go up. One study found that instances of pregnancy after varicocelectomy for infertility could rise by 20-60%.

Scrotal discomfort and infertility could be signs of a varicocele — and you don’t have to live with the symptoms. Schedule an exam with Dr. Seaman online now or call our office at 973-259-6695.

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