Skip to main content

What Are Varicoceles And How Do They Impact Fertility?

When we consider embarrassing health problems, hemorrhoids are among the first things that come to mind. Yet, there is another condition many men simply don’t talk about - varicoceles!

So what are Varicoceles?

It’s a condition that affects around 15% of all adult males and occurs when veins in the scrotum become dilated and enlarged, similar to varicose veins in the legs. For some men, their condition will go unnoticed, but for others, varicoceles can cause scrotal discomfort and impact fertility.

In this post, we’ll shed light on this often-neglected condition, exploring its causes, symptoms and treatments. So let’s get started.

Firstly, understanding varicoceles

Varicoceles occur when the valves inside the spermatic vein (the vein that controls blood flow from the testes back to the heart) malfunction. This leads to backflow or pooling of blood, causing the veins to become visible and enlarged. Varicoceles can develop on either side of the scrotum but are more common on the left side due to the anatomy of the male reproductive system. 

So how can varicoceles impact fertility?

When veins become enlarged or entangled, it can cause the testicle to heat up and impair sperm production or function. Remember, the testes typically function around 3 degrees less than average body temperature. So, when the malfunctioning valve causes warm blood from the abdomen to be carried back into the testes, the scrotum will naturally heat up, affecting its ability to reproduce sperm and testosterone.  

In some cases, varicoceles can cause a condition known as azoospermia, where there is a complete lack of sperm in the ejaculate. Still, only around 1% of all infertile men have this condition.

Essentially, you should know that varicoceles can impact fertility in various degrees, although not in every case, and some men with the condition do go on to father children.

Symptoms of varicoceles

As stated, in some cases, varicoceles are asymptomatic, meaning that affected individuals might not even be aware of their presence. However, others may experience the following symptoms:

Essentially, varicoceles are not dangerous but should not be ignored. Aside from infertility problems, they can also cause testicular atrophy ( a shrinking of the testes) if the problem goes undetected or untreated.

The good news is that several options are available for those currently living with varicoceles to manage and treat this condition. 

Treatment options

Traditionally, varicoceles treatment has been performed using an open surgery technique where the affected veins are sealed or tied off in a process known as ligation. The procedure is typically performed under a general anesthetic and can take up to six weeks to fully recover.  

However, a newer, non-surgical technique called varicoceles artery embolization is also available and is usually carried out in an outpatient setting at a vein clinic. Generally, this type of treatment is performed by an interventional radiologist.  

During the procedure, a tiny nick is made in the groin, and a catheter is inserted up and into the testicular vein, where a venography is performed to ascertain the levels of damage. Microscopic coils are then inserted to embolize (seal off) the problem vessels so that blood flow is redirected towards normal functioning veins.

Because the problem veins no longer receive any nutrients from the blood, they wither and die, eventually getting reabsorbed back into the body.

Once patients have undergone embolization therapy, they are observed for a few hours and then discharged. Most people return to normal daily activities soon after.  

What about lifestyle changes? Can they make a difference?

Making specific lifestyle changes like avoiding heavy lifting, wearing supportive underwear and engaging in regular gentle exercise can alleviate discomfort while preventing the worsening of the condition.

Varicoceles – the key takeaway

Now you know what varicoceles are, the good news is that living with the condition doesn’t have to be a silent struggle. Even though it can cause infertility, treatments like embolization successfully treat varicoceles-related infertility in 70% of cases. Moreover, 84% of men who go on to father children show improved semen parameters after three months.

Early diagnosis and timely intervention can help prevent further complications and improve the quality of life for those living with varicoceles. So, if you suspect you may have varicoceles or experience some of the symptoms above, it’s best to consult your healthcare professional immediately. They will explore the best course of action for your case.

Want to know more about varicoceles embolization? Get in touch with the team at MINT. With four convenient locations across the Midwest, we’re your go-to treatment centre for vascular, endovascular and interventional radiology treatments.


Photo attribute: imaghge by wayhomestudio on Freepik

You Might Also Enjoy...

Right-Sided Varicocele – Is It Dangerous?

While a right-sided varicocele is rare, it does occur; and when it does, the diagnosis needs to be taken seriously as it could indicate an underlying medical issue. Read on to learn more about this condition.