Varicoceles and Infertility

Similar to a varicose vein you may find in your leg, a varicocele occurs when veins in your scrotum, the skin that surrounds the testicles become enlarged. 10-15% of men will develop varicoceles, and some may experience infertility as a result. Most varicoceles can be corrected with a surgical procedure.

Varicoceles generally begin during puberty and slowly continue to grow. Most commonly, varicoceles appear on the left side of the scrotum. They can become enlarged to the point where they’re noticeable and may be described as looking like a bag of worms. In some cases, varicoceles can cause your scrotum to swell. You should call your doctor if you notice any pain or swelling.


Varicocele Symptoms

Most men will never experience any symptoms with varicoceles. In rare cases, it can cause sharp or dull pain that is worse with standing and physical exertion, increases as the day progresses or is relieved by lying on your back. Sometimes, varicoceles can restrict testicular development or cause the affected testicle to shrink.

Varicoceles can also cause higher than normal temperatures in and around the testicles- causing low sperm production and poor sperm quality, resulting in infertility. Having varicoceles does not mean you will not be able to produce children, but it could be a factor if you and your partner are having trouble conceiving.


Diagnosing Varicoceles

Varicoceles are usually diagnosed during a physical examination. If they are not large enough for a conclusive diagnosis, your doctor may recommend a scrotal ultrasound to rule out any tumors or other causes for your symptoms.


Treatment Options

Most of the time, varicoceles don’t require any sort of treatment. In cases where they cause pain, testicular atrophy or infertility- surgery can be done to correct the varicocele. During the procedure, the enlarged vein is sealed to encourage blood to flow into other normal veins. You may experience discomfort for a couple of days following the procedure and can generally return to normal activities after a week.

Generally, sperm quality improves once the varicocele is corrected. However, it takes three months for new sperm to develop, so you will not see improvement on a semen analysis immediately. If you and your partner are having challenges conceiving, ask your doctor if varicoceles may be causing infertility.

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