A varicocele is a swelling of veins in the scrotum. Varicoceles can occur on either side of the scrotum, but they are more common on the left side. They occur most often in teenage boys and young men.
In most cases, varicoceles are not a serious problem. They are usually small and painless and do not require treatment. Treatment may be needed if:
- A varicocele is large, causes a lot of pain, or causes pain when exercising.
- Varicoceles are found on both sides of the scrotum.
- The testicle on the opposite side is absent or not normal.
- A varicocele causes a decrease in the size of the testicle in a growing adolescent.
- The person has fertility problems.
This condition is the result of valves in the veins not working properly. Valves in the veins help to return blood from the scrotum and testicles to the heart. If these valves do not work well, blood flows backward and backs up into the veins, which causes the veins to swell. This is similar to what happens when varicose veins form in the leg.
- Swelling on one side of the scrotum. The swelling may be more obvious when you are standing up.
- A lumpy feeling in the scrotum.
- A heavy feeling on one side of the scrotum.
- A dull ache in the scrotum, especially after exercise or prolonged standing or sitting.
- Slower growth or reduced size of the testicle on the side of the varicocele (in young males).
- Problems with fertility. These can occur if the testicle does not grow normally.
- A physical exam.
- An ultrasound, to confirm the diagnosis and to help rule out other causes of the swelling.
Treatment is usually not needed for this condition. If you have any pain, your health care provider may prescribe or recommend medicine to help relieve it. You may need regular exams so your health care provider can monitor the varicocele to ensure that it does not cause problems. Further treatment may involve:
- Varicocelectomy: This is a surgery in which the swollen veins are tied off so that the flow of blood goes to other veins instead.
- Embolization: In this procedure, a small tube (catheter) is used to place metal coils or other blocking items in the veins. This cuts off the blood flow to the swollen veins.
Follow these instructions at home:
- Take medicines only as directed by your health care provider.
- Wear supportive underwear.
- Use an athletic supporter for sports.
- Keep all follow-up visits as directed by your health care provider.
Contact a health care provider if:
- Your pain is increasing.
- You have redness in the affected area.
- You have swelling that does not decrease when you are lying down.
- One of your testicles is smaller than the other.
- Your testicle becomes enlarged, swollen, or painful.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider.