A varicocele (VAR-ih-koe-seel) is an enlargement of the veins within the loose bag of skin that holds your testicles (scrotum). A varicocele is similar to a varicose vein that can occur in your leg.

Varicoceles are a common cause of low sperm production and decreased sperm quality, which can cause infertility. However, not all varicoceles affect sperm production. Varicoceles can also cause testicles to fail to develop normally or shrink.

Most varicoceles develop over time. Fortunately, most varicoceles are easy to diagnose and many don't need treatment. If a varicocele causes symptoms, it often can be repaired surgically.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

A varicocele often produces no signs or symptoms. Rarely, it may cause pain. The pain may:

  • Vary from sharp to dull discomfort
  • Increase with standing or physical exertion, especially over long periods
  • Worsen over the course of a day
  • Be relieved when you lie on your back

With time, varicoceles may enlarge and become more noticeable. In young men, the presence of a varicocele impairs sperm production and can often be improved with treatment.

When to see a doctor

Because a varicocele usually causes no symptoms, it often requires no treatment. Varicoceles may be discovered during a fertility evaluation or a routine physical exam.

However, if you experience pain or swelling in your scrotum, discover a mass on your scrotum, notice that your testicles are different sizes, or develop a varicocele in your youth, or you're having problems with fertility, contact your doctor. A number of conditions can cause a scrotal mass or testicular pain, some of which require immediate treatment.

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