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What is a varicocele?

A varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the network of veins within the skin of the scrotum. They result from poorly functioning valves in the main veins that drain the scrotum and testicles. Once valves in these veins go bad, blood no longer flows out of the scrotum efficiently and can even flow backward. This results in pooling blood in the veins around the testicle, raising the temperature and pressure. Eventually, the veins stretch out and are visibly noticeable.

Symptoms of varicocele

The stretching out of the veins’ walls can cause pain typically described as heaviness and throbbing. Pain is usually made worse with prolonged standing or other activities like biking. For the most part, the only way to relieve the pain is by lying down and allowing blood to drain out of the varicocele more easily.

Varicoceles are not always painful, however. Asymptomatic varicoceles are commonly discovered during a fertility workup, to the surprise of the patient. The abnormally high temperature and pressure on the testicle adversely affect the quality of sperm. This is the number one reversible cause of male fertility issues. In addition, the hormonal function of the testicles can also be impaired, resulting in lower testosterone production. This is called hypogonadism, one of the most common conditions males suffer from as they age. Finally, varicoceles can cause a cosmetic deformity to the affected testicles, causing them to shrink in size.

A minimally invasive alternative treatment

A varicocele embolization is an outpatient alternative to traditional corrective surgery called a varicocelectomy. The embolization is done by an interventional radiologist, a physician who subspecializes in minimally invasive image-guided procedures. A patient will undergo an x-ray dye study to locate the malfunctioning vein. Next, a combination of coils and a sclerosing agent will be used to close off that vein and redirect drainage of the scrotal vein network toward good veins. Relief from pain comes quickly after that. The embolization procedure takes under an hour, and the recovery is an hour.

Advantages of varicocele embolization

Compared to surgery, varicocele embolization has similar success rates without as lengthy of a recovery process. Surgery requires a recovery period of 1-2 weeks, with a 4-week recovery before resuming sex. Varicocele embolization only requires a 1-day recovery before resuming regular physical activities, which includes sex.

If you have pain, infertility or hypogonadism caused by a varicocele, we can treat your condition at Summit IR. We perform many of these procedures annually and would love to be part of your success story. Contact us today.

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