What Is a Varicocele?

A varicocele is a condition in which veins in the scrotum, which is the sac holding the testes, become dilated and enlarged. Varicoceles are very common, occurring in about 15% of the general male population and 40% of men with infertility. Varicoceles tend to appear during puberty or adulthood. The cause of the condition is not well understood, but it is likely due to the anatomy of how these veins drain blood from the testicles back to the heart. Problems with valves within the veins or two much pressure above the veins can cause enlargement. Varicoceles are more common on the left due to how the blood drains into the left renal vein on that side.

A varicocele is merely an anatomical finding, which often has no medical impact or significance. In some cases, varicoceles can cause pain in the scrotum, reduced size of the testicle, low testosterone production, and/or infertility. In less than 50% of cases, varicoceles can lead to abnormal semen parameters. A leading theory is that the pooling of blood caused by dilated veins raises the temperature inside the scrotum, and the elevated temperature damages sperm.

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