Any sort of bump, lum,p or itchy patch on any part of your family jewels will cause instant terror for even the toughest of men. They’re your most prized possessions and the thought of contracting an STD is nothing short of terrifying. While it often turns out that you have some sort of weird reaction that’s totally harmless, you can’t help but fear the worst. But, when it comes to varicoceles, here’s why you should ease your mind.
- What is a varicocele anyway? A varicocele (VAR-ih-koe-seel) is an enlargement of the veins within the loose bag of skin that holds your testicles. It’s similar to the varicose veins you might see in your leg and it’s not uncommon: 10 to 15 of every 100 males have a varicocele. They are usually acquired during puberty and are most commonly found on the left side.
- How do you know if you have one? Often times, a varicocele comes with zero symptoms and isn’t even noticeable. In some cases, it can cause a dull pain (similar to a toothache) or a heavy feeling. Over time, however, it can become more apparent and is sometimes described as looking like a “bag of worms.” Super appealing, right? The only way to know for sure is to see a doctor.
- Do you need to tell the woman you’re dating? Only if you want to. It’s not like it’s an STD and as mentioned earlier, it’s super common. When it comes time to starting a family, though, you’ll want to test your little swimmers to make sure it won’t affect your fertility. If it does, you’ll want to tell your partner so that she doesn’t lose her mind wondering if she’s barren.
- Are there any long-term effects or risks of a varicocele? Varicoceles are a common cause of low sperm production and decreased sperm quality, which can cause infertility. However, not all varicoceles affect sperm production. So, if you have any hopes of starting a family, it is important that you address it before trying. Fortunately, there are no significant side effects, although some men find them to be quite uncomfortable.
- Is there anything you can do if it’s painful? Yikes, sorry to hear that. If your varicocele causes minor discomfort that doesn’t affect your fertility, you should try over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen. Wear an athletic supporter like a jock strap to relieve pressure. If the pain is persistent, you might want to consider a Varicocelectomy. The good news is that the procedure is likely covered by your insurance if it’s causing you discomfort.
- You’re having trouble conceiving. How do you know if your varicocele is to blame? Many men with varicoceles are able to father a child without any treatment. However, if you’re both under 35 and have been trying for a year without success, it may be time to see a specialist who may suggest varicocele repair. The purpose of surgery is to seal off the affected vein to redirect the blood flow into normal veins. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam or even a scrotal ultrasound to get precise images of what’s going on in one of your most prized body parts.
- Can anything be done to improve your fertility with a varicocele? Varicoceles are found in 40% of infertile men, so it’s safe to say that they don’t help in the baby-making department. Depending on the abnormality of the semen, there are many options to increase chances. From surgically repairing the varicocele to insemination and, finally, IVF. There have been so many advancements in infertility treatments that there is no reason to lose hope.
- What is a varicocelectomy? It sounds scary. The thought of any sharp tool near your scrotum probably terrifies you. Rightly so. The goal of varicocele treatment is to stop the backward flow of blood from the body to the scrotum and therefore to “cool off” the testicles. During the surgery, the swollen veins are cut and the ends are closed off, which may be done with a method called laparoscopy or through open surgery. You’ll be under general anesthesia during the procedure so you won’t feel a thing. Afterward, you’ll be a little bruised and swollen and will be sore for a couple weeks. It’s nothing you can’t handle but take it easy anyway. This means no lifting, swimming or sex for a little while.
- You shouldn’t worry. Your varicocele is not life-threatening and as mentioned earlier, it is incredibly common. Sure, it would be great to be varicocele-free, but when it comes to your comfort level and fertility, the treatment options that are currently available make the worries of having one low.