A varicocele is an enlargement of the veins in the scrotum, similar to a varicose vein in the leg. It is a common cause of pain as well as low sperm production and decreased sperm quality, which may lead to infertility. Varicoceles may also prevent testicles from developing normally or cause them to shrink. About 15 percent of men in the U.S. experience a varicocele.
Most varicoceles develop over time and are easy to diagnose. Often, they don't cause symptoms and do not need treatment. Men who experience symptoms report feeling a dull ache or heaviness, pain and infertility. Varicoceles are more common on the left side and often form during puberty.
Men experiencing symptoms from a varicocele can be treated with or without surgery. A surgical procedure involves tying off the abnormal veins, so they no longer carry blood in the testicles. It is typically a same-day surgery, but recovery takes two to three weeks.
Holy Name Medical Center's Interventional Radiologists perform a minimally invasive procedure that blocks the flow of blood to the veins. It requires only a small puncture, and patients are typically given a mild IV sedation and local anesthesia.
During the procedure, a small catheter is guided through a tiny incision in the arm, neck or groin to the testicular vein. The interventional radiologist then uses coils, chemicals or medical glue to block (embolize) the flow in the vein, which sends blood to other healthy vessels.
Benefits of interventional procedure
- No hospital stay required
- Recovery time for patients is two to three days
- Patients typically report feeling no pain during the 1- to 2-hour procedure
- No surgical incision, sutures or infections in the scrotal area
- As effective as surgery, when measured by semen analysis and pregnancy rates
- No accumulation of fluid in the scrotum, which may happen after surgery
- Varicocels on both sides can be fixed with one vein puncture site, compared to surgery, which requires two separate open incisions