What Is a Varicocele, Diagnosis, Causes, Treatment, Surgery, Recovery

What is a varicocele?

Varicocele is a medical condition characterized by the enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, which is the pouch of skin that holds the testicles. These veins are called the pampiniform plexus, and they can become swollen and twisted, similar to varicose veins that occur in the legs. Varicoceles are most commonly found on the left side of the scrotum.


Varicocele diagnosis

The diagnosis of varicocele typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and, in some cases, imaging studies. Here’s an overview of the diagnostic process:

Medical history:

Your doctor will start by asking you about your medical history, including any symptoms you may be experiencing. Questions about pain or discomfort in the scrotum, changes in testicular size, and fertility concerns may be addressed.

Physical examination:

A physical examination of the scrotum is a key component of the diagnosis. The doctor may ask you to stand, take a deep breath, and then perform a Valsalva maneuver (bearing down as if having a bowel movement) to help detect any varicocele. During the examination, the doctor will palpate (feel) the scrotum to check for swelling or enlarged veins. Varicoceles are often described as feeling like a “bag of worms” when touched.


If the physical examination is inconclusive or if the doctor needs more detailed information, an ultrasound may be recommended. Color Doppler ultrasound is commonly used to assess blood flow and detect the presence of varicoceles. This imaging technique can help confirm the diagnosis and provide information about the severity of the condition.

Venography (if needed):

In some cases, venography may be performed, especially if there are concerns about blood flow or if surgical intervention is being considered. This involves injecting a contrast dye into the veins of the scrotum and taking X-ray images to visualize the blood vessels.


Varicocele causes

The exact cause of varicoceles is not always clear, but the condition is generally associated with problems in the blood vessels within the scrotum. Some factors that may contribute to the development of varicoceles:

  • Faulty Valves in the Veins
  • Gravity and Upright Posture
  • Increased Pressure in Abdominal Veins
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Nutcracker Syndrome
  • Hormonal Factors

It’s important to note that while these factors may increase the risk of varicoceles, not every individual with these risk factors will develop the condition. Varicoceles are more commonly found during puberty and early adulthood, and they are less common in older men.



Varicoceles are frequently left untreated. The treatment is offered for men with the following characteristics:

  • Pain associated with infertility (trouble fathering a child)
  • Aberrant semen analysis shows that the left testicle is growing more slowly than the right.
  • Drugs are not available to prevent or treat varicoceles. However, analgesics (such acetaminophen or ibuprofen) might alleviate pain.

Surgery is the principal modality of treatment when necessary. Embolisation is a non-surgical therapy method that involves temporarily restricting the veins.



Before deciding on varicocele surgery, it’s crucial to consult with a urologist or a healthcare professional who can assess the severity of the condition, discuss treatment options, and provide personalized recommendations based on the individual’s health and fertility concerns.

There are several surgical approaches to treat varicoceles, and the choice of the method depends on the severity of the condition and the surgeon's preference. The main types of varicocele surgery include:

Open surgery (inguinal or subinguinal varicocelectomy): This involves making an incision in the groin area, usually near the inguinal canal, to access and ligate the enlarged veins. This approach provides direct access to the varicocele and allows the surgeon to tie off the affected veins.

Laparoscopic varicocelectomy: In this minimally invasive approach, the surgeon makes several small incisions in the abdomen and inserts a laparoscope (a thin tube with a camera) and other instruments to perform the surgery. This method is associated with less postoperative pain and a quicker recovery compared to open surgery.

Microsurgical varicocelectomy: This technique involves using an operating microscope to magnify the surgical field. The surgeon makes a small incision in the scrotum or lower abdomen and uses microsurgical instruments to perform the procedure. Microsurgery allows for better visualization and precision in identifying and ligating the veins, and it’s associated with lower rates of recurrence and complications.

Percutaneous embolization: This is a non-surgical alternative where a catheter is threaded through the blood vessels to the varicocele, and a substance is injected to block off the affected veins. It’s less invasive than surgical methods, but it may not be suitable for all cases.


Recovery time

Recovery time and potential complications vary depending on the type of surgery performed. Patients typically experience some discomfort and swelling after the procedure, but this usually improves over time. It’s important to follow postoperative care instructions provided by the surgeon to promote healing and reduce the risk of complications.

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