What is a varicocele?

A varicocele is an enlarged vein within the scrotum — the bag of skin that holds the testicles. In many men, varicoceles develop on the left side during puberty.

If left untreated, varicocele can decrease sperm quality and production, which can lead to infertility.

Causes of a varicocele

Although the exact cause of varicoceles is unknown, some researchers believe they form when the blood stops flowing properly due to dysfunction in the valves within the veins. As the blood backs up in the veins, they may widen.

Risks factors for a varicocele

Complications associated with varicocele include:

  • Damage vessels
  • Recurring formation of new varicoceles
  • Infection
  • Fluid buildup around testicle

Symptoms of a varicocele

There are few symptoms associated with varicoceles. The most common symptom is a dull, recurring pain. If you do experience pain, it can become extreme and impair your fertility. It can worsen with physical activity or over the course of the day and be relieved by lying on your back.

Other potential symptoms of a varicocele include:

  • Swollen testicle on the left side
  • Visible twisted appearance of an enlarged vein in the scrotum, sometimes described as looking like a bag of worms
  • Lump on the testicle

Diagnosis of a varicocele

Your Mercy Health urologist can diagnose varicoceles during a physical exam. Because varicoceles are hard to see lying down, your doctor will likely examine your testicles while you are standing up. Your doctor may order a scrotal ultrasound if early tests are inconclusive. An ultrasound can provide detailed images of the veins to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatments for a varicocele

Many men with varicoceles do not need medical treatment. If you have varicoceles that are painful, causing testicular atrophy or causing infertility, there are treatment options to help. The earlier you start treatment, the more likely you are to improve your sperm production.

The goal of surgery is to redirect blood flow into normal veins. In men who are trying to have a child, the surgery may help improve the quality of the sperm.

Your Mercy Health doctor will evaluate your case to determine the most effective treatment for you.

Treatment options include:


A varicocelectomy is a surgery that is performed in a hospital on an outpatient basis. During the procedure, your urologist will make an incision in the abdomen or pelvis to reach the abnormal veins. The doctor will tie together the abnormal veins, so blood can flow into the normal veins.

Varicocele percutaneous embolization

A varicocele embolization is a minimally invasive procedure that can be performed in a day. During the procedure, your urologist will insert a catheter into the groin or neck in the vein. A coil is then thread through the catheter into the varicocele. The coil can block blood from entering the abnormal veins.

Laparoscopic surgery

Laparoscopic surgery requires general anesthesia. During the surgery, your urologist will make an incision in your abdomen and surgically repair the varicocele.

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