A torturous mass above the testicles is a common finding in men. Many people, with little to no knowledge about genitalia, mistakenly believe this is a normal finding until the disease begins to manifest consequences.
Varicocele is a condition characterized by the enlargement of the veins within the scrotum, which is the pouch of skin containing the testicles. These veins are called the pampiniform plexus. Varicoceles are similar to varicose veins that occur in the legs. This pathology results from the malfunction of the valves within the veins that regulate blood flow to the testes. It affects about 10-15% of men.
The exact cause of varicocele remains unclear but many factors can contribute:
The veins in the spermatic cord, which carry blood to and from the testicles, have one-way valves that help regulate blood flow. If these valves become weak or fail to function properly, blood can pool in the veins, leading to their enlargement and the formation of a varicocele.
The anatomy of the blood vessels in the spermatic cord may contribute to its development. The left testicular vein is longer and connects to the left renal vein at a right angle, making it more prone to increased pressure and backflow of blood.
There may be a genetic component to the development of varicoceles.
Increased Intra-Abdominal Pressure:
Conditions that lead to increased pressure within the abdomen, such as chronic constipation, heavy lifting, or prolonged standing, may contribute to the development or worsening of varicoceles.
In some cases, the exact cause of varicoceles remains unknown.
Varicoceles often develop without causing noticeable symptoms, and some individuals may be unaware that they have this condition. When symptoms do occur, they can vary in intensity.
Pain or Discomfort:
A dull, aching pain or discomfort in the scrotum is a common symptom of varicoceles, more pronounced after standing for long periods.
The veins within the scrotum may become visibly enlarged or swollen, giving the appearance of a “bag of worms.” This is often more noticeable when standing.
Testicular Atrophy (Rare):
In some cases, particularly if the varicocele develops during adolescence, there may be a discrepancy in the size of the testicles. The affected testicle may be smaller than the other due to reduced blood flow and potential impact on testicular growth.
Varicoceles are a common cause of male infertility, and they may impact sperm production, motility, and quality. In cases where fertility is a concern, a healthcare professional may recommend further evaluation and, if necessary, treatment.
Varicoceles are often graded based on their size and severity. The most commonly used is the clinical grading system, which classifies varicoceles into three grades:
Grade I (Subclinical or Small):
Grade I varicoceles are typically not visible or palpable (felt) without the Valsalva maneuver, which involves bearing down or taking a deep breath to increase abdominal pressure. They may only be detected using techniques like ultrasound. These are considered mild or subclinical and may not cause noticeable symptoms.
Grade II (Palpable):
Grade II varicoceles are palpable (can be felt) without the need for the Valsalva maneuver. The veins are easily felt when the person is standing. This grade indicates a moderate-sized varicocele.
Grade III (Visible):
Grade III varicoceles are not only palpable but also visible. The enlarged veins are easily seen when the person is standing. These are considered large and may be associated with more significant symptoms.
Sarteschi/Liguori is another classification that depends on swollen veins, where they are, and their behavior when standing or lying down.
- Grade 1: Swollen veins in the groin when standing.
- Grade 2: Swollen veins reach the upper part of the testis when standing.
- Grade 3: Swollen veins around the testis when standing.
- Grade 4: Swollen veins when lying down and standing, getting bigger when a person strains. Varicocele grade 4 symptoms include dull aching pain, visible veins and testicular shrinkage may happen.
- Grade 5: Enlarged veins when lying down and standing. Testicular shrinkage is common. Reflux doesn’t increase when you strain.
The diagnosis of a varicocele typically involves a combination of a physical examination, medical history review, and sometimes imaging studies like ultrasound.
A common test used by physicians to check for varicoceles is valsalva maneuver. This involves taking a deep breath and bearing down, which increases abdominal pressure. The doctor will then check for changes in the size of the veins in the scrotum during this maneuver.
How Are Varicoceles Treated?
The treatment of varicocele depends on the staging of the disease. For some watchful waiting is best while others having severe issue medical intervention is needed.
Not all varicoceles cause symptoms or fertility issues. In some cases, the condition may be asymptomatic and not require treatment. Regular monitoring may be recommended to assess any changes in symptoms or the varicocele itself.
Scrotal Support: Wearing supportive underwear or a scrotal support (like a jockstrap) can help relieve discomfort associated with varicoceles by reducing pressure on the veins.
Diet and Exercise: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a balanced diet, can contribute to overall vascular health.
There is no specific medication approved for the treatment of varicoceles, but some medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms such as pain or discomfort. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be recommended for pain relief.
3-D Precision Guided Varicocele Embolization:
This is varicocele treatment without surgery. Transcatheter embolization is a minimally invasive procedure in which a catheter is threaded through the blood vessels to the varicocele. A substance is then injected to block the blood flow in the affected veins, causing them to shrink. This procedure is typically performed by an interventional radiologist.
Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed is an expert endovascular surgeon and interventional radiologist with extensive experience in embolization techniques. He is the founder of 3-D precision guided varicocele embolization of varicocele.He has successfully treated all grades of varicocele without surgery. His areas of expertise include non-surgical treatment for varicocele, male infertility, and venous leak. Additionally, he addresses female infertility issues.
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