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What is a varicocele?

A varicocele is a condition that causes the veins in your scrotum to become enlarged and dilated. The scrotum is the sac that holds the testicles. A varicocele can cause infertility because it prevents sperm from flowing out of the testicles.

What causes a varicocele?

A varicocele occurs when the valves within the veins in the scrotum do not work properly. Valves open and close to keep the blood flowing in one direction. When the valves do not work properly, blood backs up and causes the veins to dilate and swell.

What are the signs and symptoms of a varicocele?

  • A mass or swelling that is like a bag of worms
  • Veins that are swollen and twisted
  • Mild discomfort

How is a varicocele diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your scrotum while you stand. He may ask you to take a deep breath, hold it, and bear down like you are having a bowel movement. You may also need the following:

  • An ultrasound may show the varicocele.
  • A spermatic venography may show the position of the veins in your scrotum. You may be given contrast dye to help the veins show up better in the pictures. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is a varicocele treated?

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • An athletic supporter may reduce pressure and treat your varicocele.
  • Percutaneous embolization is a procedure to create scarring in your veins. The scars form a blockage that causes the blood to flow around the varicocele.
  • Surgery may be needed to cut or tie off the blocked veins. This will cause the blood to flow around the blockage and heal the varicocele.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have pain in your scrotum.
  • You have a lump on your scrotum.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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