Varicoceles - an overview

A varicocele (pronounced VA-RI-KOH-SEAL) is defined as an enlargement of the veins in the scrotum (the loose sac of skin holding the testicles). A varicocele is quite similar to a varicose vein you might see in the legs. Varicoceles are more common in the left testicle.

Most varicoceles develop slowly over time and are relatively easy to diagnose - often not needing any treatment either!

Although they are often symptomless sometimes they can cause pain which may be:

  • Very sharp or a dull ache

  • Get worse when standing or during exercise

  • Get worse as the day goes on

  • Improve when lying on your back

Varicoceles may become more noticeable over time as they grow and in some cases can cause complications including:

  • Shrinking of the testicle - the varicocele can cause the affected testicle to shrink and soften. The reason for this is unknown but may be linked to pooling of blood (due to the malfunctioning valves) in the testicle.

  • Infertility - varicoceles may cause the temperature of the testicle to increase and remain higher which may affect sperm production, movement and function. Although not everyone with a varicocele will experience this.

They may also cause a swelling in the testicle due to the enlarged veins.

Interestingly, there seem to be no risk factors increasing the chance of an individual developing a varicocele.


Often treatment isn't necessary and many men with a varicocele are able to have children. However, if the varicocele is causing pain, testicular shrinking or possibly linked to infertility, a varicocele repair may be warranted. The surgery aims to seal off the affected vein and direct the blood flow through the normal veins.

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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