Varicocele: Understanding Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options

Varicocele: Understanding Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment Options  
Varicocele is a condition that occurs when the veins within the loose pouch of skin that contain the testicles become swollen or enlarged. The veins located inside the testicles are intended to move oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart, however, a varicocele develops when the blood pools in these veins instead of exiting the veins. Here is what you should know about how a varicocele could affect your testicular health.

Understanding Varicoceles

Each testicle has one artery that brings oxygen-rich blood from the heart, one vein that takes the oxygen-depleted blood back to it, and a series of smaller veins that bring the oxygen-depleted blood to the primary vein. No one knows exactly why varicoceles form in some men and not in others, but it is thought that it may be caused by a problem with the valves that are supposed to keep blood moving in the appropriate direction within the vein. Additionally, the unique path of blood flow withing the left testicle makes it more likely to experience a varicocele than the right.

Signs and Symptoms
While it is common for men with varicoceles to not notice any unusual symptoms, the following are symptoms that may develop:
  • A dull, aching pain, which may get better when lying down
  • A mass located above the testicle
  • Swelling or shrinking of testicles
  • Infertility
Diagnosing Varicoceles
If you notice one or more of the symptoms of a varicocele, be sure to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can diagnose the condition by:
  • Performing a physical exam
  • Using diagnostic imaging such as ultrasound to get a closer look at the blood flow within the scrotum
Grading Varicoceles
Grades are used to score the severity of varicoceles. These grading scale is as follows:
  • Grade 0: This type is so small that it can only be detected on an ultrasound.
  • Grade I: This type cannot be seen but can be felt by your healthcare provider using the Valsalva maneuver.
  • Grade II: This type cannot be seen but can be felt even without the Valsalva maneuver.
  • Grade III: This type can be easily seen and felt.
The Link Between Varicocele and Infertility
Varicoceles can contribute to infertility in as many as 20% of the men diagnosed with them. Varicoceles of all sizes can make it harder to conceive a child.  Additionally, having a varicocele on one side can have an impact on the way both testes are able to function. 
Non-surgical Treatment Options
For most men, no treatment is necessary to address a varicocele. Your healthcare provider may recommend annual check-ups to monitor the size of the varicocele and recommend lifestyle changes to manage uncomfortable symptoms. Some of these could include:
  • Avoiding tight fitting underwear
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication if needed for pain
  • Applying ice for 15 minutes intermittently
Surgical Treatment: Varicocelectomy
In circumstances where symptoms include severe pain or struggling with conception, a varicocelectomy may be recommended. This outpatient surgery entails a surgeon closing the affected veins to redirect blood to other veins within your scrotum that are working properly. The recovery from a varicocelectomy is typically smooth with mild discomfort. Patients can resume normal activities after about a week and should be fully recovered after six weeks.
Schedule Your Varicocele Appointment Today
If you think you may have a varicocele do not wait to schedule an appointment with your health care provider.  They can help you determine if you need to be evaluated by one of the providers with the trusted team at The Vascular Institute of the Rockies!
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