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Symptoms of varicocele and related conditions

Varicocele is a condition suffered by men in which the veins along the spermatic cord in a man's testicles enlarge. It is most common in young men, affecting roughly 15 percent of males aged 15 to 25. It's more common in young men because the testicles are growing at a rapid rate and require more blood.

Many types of varicocele won't require any treatment and are unlikely to cause infertility. Some cases do occur, however, where doctors believe the varicocele might adversely affect sperm production or cause damage to the testicles. In these cases, treatment will be necessary.

Varicocele Causes and Symptoms

The primary symptom is swollen veins in a man's scrotum, but the deeper cause is a failure in the valves that regulate blood flow to the veins that drain the testicles. When these valves fail, blood backs up in the veins, causing them to swell.

Symptoms of varicocele include scrotum pain, swollen testicle(s), shrinking of the testicle(s) and the ability to see or feel the enlarged vein. (This feeling has been likened to that of feeling a bag of worms.) Interestingly, varicocele is more common on the left side than on the right, as the body is hard-wired to have greater blood flow on the left side.

Varicocele Treatment

Varicocele is treated through an outpatient surgery called a varicocelectomy, which can be performed through the groin, abdomen or below the groin. Healing time can be lengthy, and patients are advised to apply cold packs to the area during the first 24 hours to reduce swelling. A scrotal support is also recommended during the healing process.

Another varicocele treatment option, though often a less successful one, is embolization, which involves the insertion of a small wire through a side vein in order to drain the testes.

Varicocele Related Conditions

Hydrocele testis is a condition similar to varicocele, but this condition involves the accumulation of fluid around a testicle. It is treated with a similar surgery, called a hydrocelectomy. Other related conditions include:

  • Epididymitis (a condition in which the epididymis – the curved area at the back of the testicles where sperm is stored – becomes inflamed)
  • Orchitis (a condition in which the testes become inflamed, swollen and prone to infection)

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