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Understanding Varicocele: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Understanding Varicocele: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, similar to varicose veins that can occur in the legs. This condition affects the pampiniform plexus, a network of veins that drains blood from the testicles. Varicoceles are a common cause of decreased sperm production and quality, which can lead to infertility. They can also cause the testicles to fail to develop normally or shrink. This article explores the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of varicoceles.


Healthcare providers and medical experts aren’t sure what causes varicoceles to develop. Some think that a faulty valve inside certain veins in the spermatic cord may cause them. The spermatic cord is a band of tissues that holds your testicles in place. These veins return blood from your testicles to your body. The valve acts as a sort of “on/off” switch. It has two flap-like structures that help blood move back toward your heart. When a valve doesn’t work the way it should, blood may build up inside the veins in your testicles. Over time, the veins swell.


Many varicoceles are asymptomatic and are often discovered during a routine physical examination. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Aching Pain: A dull, aching pain in the scrotum that may worsen with physical activity or standing for long periods.
  • Visible or Palpable Enlarged Veins: Veins in the scrotum may appear enlarged or feel like a "bag of worms."
  • Scrotal Swelling: Swelling or a heavy feeling in the testicle.
  • Fertility Issues: Decreased sperm production and quality, leading to infertility.
  • Testicular Atrophy: Shrinkage of the affected testicle.


Diagnosing a varicocele typically involves a physical examination and may include the following diagnostic procedures:

  • Physical Examination: A doctor palpates the scrotum while the patient is standing and may ask the patient to perform the Valsalva manoeuvre (taking a deep breath and holding it while bearing down) to make the varicocele more prominent.
  • Scrotal Ultrasound: High-resolution ultrasound imaging is used to confirm the presence of a varicocele and assess its size and severity.
  • Doppler Ultrasonography: This test evaluates blood flow through the veins and helps confirm the diagnosis.

Varicocele & Fertility

Varicoceles are among the most common causes of male infertility, though the presence of a varicocele does not mean infertility will occur. In situations where varicoceles impair fertility, it has been suggested that they are a major cause of infertility in men, some reports suggesting as high as 40%. However, many people with varicoceles have no problems achieving pregnancy. From our understanding, the presence and the issue of varicoceles and their relation to male fertility is still debated.


Varicoceles are a common condition that can affect male fertility and cause discomfort. While many varicoceles are asymptomatic and do not require treatment, those causing pain or fertility issues can be effectively managed with surgical or minimally invasive procedures. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for preserving testicular function and improving fertility outcomes. If you suspect you have a varicocele, consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.


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