What is a varicocele?
There are veins in the scrotum (the sac of skin that contains the testicles) that take the blood from the testicles up toward the heart. Sometimes the blood may be slow to return to the heart causing blood to collect in the veins in the scrotum. As a result, the veins get bigger, or swell. When this occurs, it is called a varicocele.
The majority of the time, a varicocele will appear around the left testicle versus the right testicle. Typically, they occur during or after puberty due to the rapid growth of the testicles during this stage and the need for more blood to be delivered to them. For most, a varicocele does not cause permanent harm.
The veins may feel like a “bag of worms” and some individuals may experience a feeling of heaviness or dull discomfort in the scrotum. In some cases, however, a varicocele may not cause any symptoms at all.
Testing, diagnosis and treatment
A varicocele is typically detected during a physical exam. This exam may be conducted while a patient is standing up, as at times the varicocele may disappear when an individual is lying down.
If a varicocele is suspected, a scrotal ultrasound (painless test that will take pictures of the scrotum and testicles) will be performed. Measurements will also be taken to compare the size of the left and right testicle to make sure they are equal.
Typically, the varicocele will be monitored with periodic scrotal ultrasounds to check the growth of the testicles to make sure they are growing equally. If there is a significant difference in the size of the testicles (based on several ultrasounds), and/or an individual is experiencing pain, surgery may be needed.
Your child’s pediatric urology surgeon will discuss options with you based on physical findings and the results of the scrotal ultrasounds.