Varicocele is the presence of varicose veins in the testes and it is a fairly common cause of male infertility. In varicoceles, as in other types of varicose veins, the blood does not circulate out of the vein properly, causing a buildup of blood inside the vein. This causes the vein to bulge, stretch, and twist. A varicocele appears on the testicles as a protruding lump of veins, almost like a pile of worms.
Other symptoms of varicoceles include testicular pain or discomfort, noticeable shrinkage of the testicle(s), a heavy feeling in the testicle, infertility, and an enlarged vein that can be found by touch or sight. Often men affected by varicocele will not produce any visible signs or symptoms.
Why Varicocele Affects Male Fertility
A buildup of blood in the testicle caused by the varicocele causes the temperature inside the testicle to rise. The increased temperature prevents proper production and maturation of sperm, and this lowers a man's fertility. Although it is possible for a varicocele to affect both testes, in 90% of cases just the left testicle is affected.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Varicocele
Varicocele can often be diagnosed though a physical exam. However, in an instance where you doctor cannot see or feel a varicocele, it can be diagnosed though ultrasound or veinography, where dye is injected into the vein and then x-rayed. A sperm analysis where sperm is immature, malformed, immotile, dead, or dying may prompt your doctor to check for varicocele.
Varicocele is most often treated by minor surgery, to restore fertility, although in less severe cases extra support to the testicular area may be enough to improve sperm quality.