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Painful Testicles - Varicocele and Scrotum Swelling

  • Published: 2009-07-03 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-21) : Author: Bob Maloney
  • Synopsis: A varicocele is one or more swollen veins in the scrotum that lead upward from the testicles toward the heart become abnormally swollen.

Quote: "Varicoceles are common. About 15% of all men have a varicocele. Varicoceles usually develop slowly and there may not be any symptoms. Over time, the veins may become quite enlarged and painful."

Main Document

A varicocele is basically one or more swollen veins in the scrotum.

If you have a swelling on one or both sides of your scrotum, you might have a varicocele. So what is a varicocele

I'll start with the pronunciation. Imagine you are on an iceberg with a seal. You shiver as you try to say "Very cold, seal" and it comes out "Very co, seal."

What is a Varicocele

A varicocele is basically one or more swollen veins in the scrotum. When the spermatic veins that lead upward from the testicles toward the heart become abnormally swollen, the one-way valves inside the veins fail and it becomes difficult for blood to be pumped uphill against gravity.

Normally the blood leaving the scrotum is pumped upward when the heart beats. Then the valves close and prevent the blood from falling back down until the next heartbeat. When the vein gets stretched out and becomes too wide for the valves to fully close, then the blood flows back down between beats. The blood backs up in the veins around the testicles, the weight of the blood stretching and enlarging the veins further, like when you pour water into a balloon.

These swollen veins are called a varicocele. You may know someone who has varicose (i.e. swollen) veins in their legs. A varicocele is, essentially, varicose veins of the scrotum. Without proper blood flow, the testicles become undernourished, polluted, and overheated. This may result in infertility or low testosterone levels.

Varicoceles are common. About 15% of all men have a varicocele. Varicoceles usually develop slowly and there may not be any symptoms. Over time, the veins may become quite enlarged and painful.

Varicoceles usually appear on the left side of the scrotum, but can involve both sides, in which case there is an increased possibility that they may contribute to hormone imbalances that cause erectile dysfunction.

Varicoceles develop after puberty, most commonly in men aged 15 to 25.

The sudden appearance of a varicocele in an older man may be caused by a renal tumor that affects the renal vein and impairs the blood flow through the spermatic vein. However, it is common for a varicocele to go undiagnosed until fertility problems become evident or it becomes quite enlarged or painful, so an older man diagnosed with a varicocele may actually have had it for many years.

It is widely believed that varicoceles are the most common cause of infertility, although this is debated. 39% of males who are treated for infertility have a varicocele. Among those who have previously fathered a child but now are unable to do so, 80% have a varicocele. The good news is that fertility can be restored when the varicocele is treated.

The consensus opinion is that varicoceles are not a health risk and do not require treatment. However, while you delay treating your varicocele, your testicle may be shrinking, resulting in lower testosterone levels. This has profound effects, resulting in decreased vitality and a weakened immune system.

Several studies have shown a decrease in testosterone levels in men with varicoceles, however it is often still within the normal range.

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