About 15% of all men have a varicocele, and most won’t even know how to pronounce it. A varicocele happens when a network of veins that leave the testis become stretched out and enlarged. The valves within the veins of the testis should only allow blood to flow out. But with a varicocele, the valves malfunction and trap blood inside. This is very similar to the malfunction that causes a varicose vein.
Varicoceles can lower a man’s sperm count and the quality of his sperm. In some cases the testicles may shrink and infertility becomes a significant problem.
Many men won’t even know they have varicoceles. There may or may not be pain. Some men describe it as a dragging-like pain. The sensation will increase when standing or sitting or upon physical exertion. Most significantly, when they are examined and felt, they will feel like a “bag of worms”.
A doctor may decide that no treatment is necessary depending on a man’s life, health and goals. If a definitive diagnosis is needed, an exam certainly kicks off the process, but confirmation sometimes only comes with an ultrasound.
If there is significant pain or sperm count and quality are affected when fertility is desired, then surgery may be the cure. Generally outpatient with minimal post-operative pain, the surgery to remove the offending vein is considered minor. To confirm increased sperm count and quality, a semen analysis will be done a few months after the surgery.
It is important to see your doctor if you suspect you may have a varicocele.