What are varicoceles?

A varicocele is an enlargement of the spermatic cord veins within the scrotum (the sac under the penis that houses the testicles). These veins supply blood to the testicles and contain the vas deferens (tubes that transport sperm from the testicle to the penis). They attach to the back of your testicles and travel up into your abdomen. The majority of varicoceles occur on the left side of your scrotum.

How common are varicoceles?

Approximately 15% of men have varicoceles. They typically develop during puberty and can affect men up to 30 years old but rarely after the age of 40.

What causes varicoceles?

Most varicoceles develop over time and are likely a result of faulty valves within the spermatic cord veins. Luckily, most varicoceles are easy to diagnose and most don’t need treatment.

What are the symptoms of varicocele?

Most men don’t have any symptoms but the most common symptoms of a varicocele include:

  • Dragging-like or aching pain within scrotum
  • Feeling of heaviness in one or both of the testicles
  • Shrinking of one or both of the testicles
  • Low testosterone
  • Fertility issues (low sperm production and/or quality)
  • An enlarged vein which can be seen and or felt

If you notice any changes in your testicles make sure to monitor them regularly and visit a doctor immediately if there is no improvement.

How are varicoceles diagnosed?

Varicoceles can be found through self-examination while checking for testicular cancer. If you keep up to date on your regular physical exams a doctor is likely to notice it.

During examination, a varicocele feels like a twisted mass along the spermatic cord that is often described as feeling like a “bag of worms”. A varicocele will also be visible. In the case of varicoceles it is best to check your scrotum while standing up.

If a doctor believes you have a varicocele an ultrasound will likely be done to confirm and check for further complications.

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