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GLOSSARY

Varicocele

A varicocele is a medical condition in which the veins of the scrotum become enlarged. This can have an impact on fertility, reducing the quality and quantity of sperm produced. A varicocele, moreover, can eventually lead to an inflamed testicle.

Varicocele often occurs during puberty, and on the left side of the scrotum. Beyond its implications on fertility, a varicocele can cause the testes to shrink or fail to fully develop. Varicoceles can develop over time, much like a varicose vein in the leg. This condition is easy to diagnose and in many cases, does not require treatment, unless it’s causing infertility or pain. In those cases, surgery may be required.

Varicocele in male fertility

A varicocele can have an adverse effect on male fertility, leading to reduced sperm production and decreased sperm quality. In addition, this medical condition can lead to an increase in deformed sperm, as well as reduced motility.

Varicoceles impact fertility by raising the temperature in the testes, which in turn, impairs sperm production. In order for the testes to consistently produce healthy sperm, the temperature inside the scrotum must be cooler than the rest of the body. By raising the temperature of the scrotum and testes through inflammation, a varicocele prevents the scrotum and testes from maintaining their ideal temperature.

Varicoceles can cause the testes to form poorly or shrink, while in milder cases, they may not impact sperm production at all.

Symptoms of varicocele

In many cases, varicoceles do not produce symptoms. As a result, many patients are unaware they have a varicocele until they begin experiencing fertility issues. Other possible symptoms of this medical condition include a sharp pain or dullness in the testicle. This pain may get worse throughout the day or on hotter days. Typically, the enlarged veins in the scrotum can be seen or felt, known as a “bag of worms.”

Treatment of varicocele

Typically, varicocele can go untreated unless it is detected because of its impact on a male’s fertility or pain..

Commonly, patients struggling to conceive due to a varicocele can turn to surgical treatment in which the dilated vein is sealed off and blood flow is redirected back into the surrounding veins. And while such surgical procedures can have a positive impact on male fertility and sperm quality, some patients with a history of varicocele may still have to turn to assisted reproductive technology (ART) to have biological children.
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