Varicocele Causes and Symptoms: What You Need to Know
Varicose veins of the scrotum
If you have a varicocele or you think you might have one, then you probably have a few questions. If you’re wondering what exactly a varicocele is, picture a varicose vein — one of those twisty, swollen-looking veins that you can see just under the skin. While varicose veins usually appear in the legs, varicocele (pronounced var-i-co-SEEL) is a similar condition that occurs in the scrotum. More specifically, varicoceles occur in the spermatic cord, which carries blood to and from your testicles. When the blood in these veins gets backed up, it causes the veins to widen, which can damage the testicle and cause other problems.
What causes varicoceles?
It’s not known why some men get varicoceles and others don’t. However, we do know that if your father or brother has had a varicocele, you’re at a higher risk of having one already or developing one eventually.
What are the symptoms of varicoceles?
Varicoceles don’t affect all men in the same way. In fact, sometimes there are no symptoms at all. However, there are several possible symptoms and complications. Here are the main ones.
- Bag of worms. If you feel like you have a bag of worms in your scrotum or if one testicle feels bigger than the other, those are good indications that you might have a varicocele. If you’re not sure, go see your doctor.
- Pain. Varicoceles rarely hurt, but when they do, the pain in your testicles may switch from dull to sharp, depending on your position or movements. For example, the pain may go away if you lie on your back, or it may get worse later in the day.
- Low testosterone. Since the testicles produce testosterone, poor blood flow to the testicles can reduce your testosterone levels. This can interfere with your erections, sex drive, mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, muscle mass and more.
- Infertility. Varicoceles can make the testicles warmer than they should be, which can reduce sperm production and cause sperm defects. It’s been estimated that four out of every 10 men who experience male infertility have a varicocele.
- Testicular atrophy. If not treated, a lack of healthy blood flow to the testicles can cause them to shrink.
What else do I need to know?
If you think you might have a varicocele, go to a urologist for a varicocele diagnosis. If you do have a varicocele, discuss with your urologist whether or not you need treatment. If you do need treatment, discuss your varicocele treatment options with your urologist.
If you’re doing these things, you’re probably on the right track. And remember: Varicoceles affect about 15 out of every 100 men, so most urologists have experience dealing with them. Unless you’ve gone untreated for a long time, varicocele procedures have a high success rate.