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Varicocele – Symptoms, Causes, Home Remedies

By Saksham Bhatia +2 more

Varicocele is a condition that affects 10%-15% of adult men and chances may be higher in younger males. Varicocele is a similar condition to varicose veins except it occurs in the scrotum. The male reproductive organs include the penis and the testicles. The testicles are present in a protective sac of skin called the scrotum. Sometimes, the veins in the scrotum get enlarged and twisted (just like varicose veins in the legs), this is known as varicocele. 

Varicocele may not have any symptoms in many cases. However, some men may experience certain effects such as infertility and scrotum deformation due to persistent and untreated varicocele. If you suspect that you have a varicocele, speak with your doctor immediately. Only a trained medical professional will be able to diagnose and treat varicocele. Apart from medical intervention, your doctor may suggest various home-care measures to ease your discomfort and decrease the risk of varicocele getting worse. Scroll on to learn more about these options.  


Did you know?

  • Varicoceles are more common on the left side, with a 30% to 40% probability of being bilateral if a left varicocele is identified. source: NCBI 
  • Varicoceles can lead to decreased sperm count, motility, and abnormal sperm morphology. source: NCBI 
  • Varicoceles are the most commonly identified cause of abnormal semen analysis in men. source: NCBI 

What causes varicocele?

Varicocele has a simple root cause, just like varicose veins. The oxygen-rich blood gets pumped to all parts of the body through the arteries. After reaching all parts of the body, the oxygen is depleted and this blood needs to return to the heart through your veins. The veins have one-way valves in them so that blood can only move back towards the heart.

However, due to age, damage or other medical conditions these valves may become weak or stop working correctly. This leads to blood flowing back into the veins instead of getting pushed towards the heart. The excess blood collecting within these blood vessels of the scrotum leads to the veins becoming larger and twisted. In many men, a varicocele may not show any symptoms of enlarged veins but in severe cases, it can be seen visibly. 

Varicocele is usually categorised according to how severe the condition is:

  • Grade 0 – Varicocele is present but can only be detected through an ultrasound imaging test
  • Grade 1 – Varicocele cannot be seen but can be detected through physical examination by a doctor when you perform the ‘bearing down’ action 
  • Grade 2 – Varicocele cannot be seen but can be detected through physical examination even without the bearing down test
  • Grade 3 – Varicocele can be seen easily 

Varicocele might be a cause for low sperm count, and poor motility, and may lead to an increase in the percentage of abnormal sperm, obtain an ultrasound to get an early diagnosis.

Dr Ashish Bajaj – M.B.B.S, M.D. in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology

Symptoms of varicocele 

A lot of men will not be aware that they have varicocele since it often does not have any noticeable symptoms or effects on their health. Many men only discover varicocele when their doctors are trying to find the cause of infertility or during routine physical examinations. In severe cases, it can have symptoms and will require medical attention. These signs may include:

  • Pain, aching, discomfort and possible swelling in the scrotum area
  • Pain that gets worse when you stand or sit for long periods
  • Enlarged veins on the left side of the scrotum 
  • A small mass or lump above the left testicle 
  • Infertility (inability to have a child after 1 year of trying)

Note that you may or may not see these symptoms depending on your condition. Not all men with varicocele will experience infertility. 

There are no effective medical treatments. If a varicocele is causing pain or discomfort, the use of analgesics and scrotal support can be used initially. When a varicocele is treated surgically, it is usually an outpatient procedure.

Dr. M.G. Kartheeka – MBBS, MD(Pediatrics)

Home remedies for varicocele

It is important to consult a doctor for the diagnosis and treatment of varicocele. You may also discuss with your healthcare provider about trying these home remedies-

1. Exercises

Since varicocele is linked to blood circulation, any mild exercise that can improve blood flow will be beneficial for this condition. Regular walks, jogging and swimming are great for strengthening your leg muscles and supporting your blood vessels. Cycling, jumping, squats and weight lifting may worsen your condition and put a strain on the blood vessels in the scrotum. These exercises should be limited or avoided.

2. Ice pack

A cold compress or ice pack can be applied to the scrotum region to ease swelling, pain and discomfort, especially after a tiring workout. Do not apply ice directly to the skin, always wrap it in a cloth.

3. Use a jockstrap

A jockstrap is a type of male underwear that provides extra support for the scrotum. It is often used when playing a variety of sports. You can also use a jockstrap during your regular routine to provide additional support if your job requires you to stand for long periods. 

4. Avoid tight underwear

Tight underwear can put unnecessary strain on your scrotum and increase the pressure on your veins. This may worsen your varicocele.

5. Get rest

Laying flat on your back can ease the pressure on the veins in your legs and scrotum. This may bring temporary relief from symptoms of pain and discomfort. If possible, try to keep your legs slightly raised when you lay.

6. Add fibre

A fibre-rich diet will ensure that your food is digested smoothly and that you do not need to strain when passing stools. If you strain too much during bowel movements, you end up adding to the pressure in your scrotum region. Any healthy food that supports smoother movements should be added to your diet, such as leafy greens, fruits and whole grains. 

7. Antioxidant diet

Antioxidants are vital for dealing with free radicals and damage to your cells due to oxidative stress. An antioxidant-rich diet may lead to better overall health which is what you will need when you have varicocele. 

8. Avoid junk food

Oily, fatty, sugary foods and beverages can interfere with smooth digestion and cause constipation. These items may also increase your blood pressure, which could make your varicocele worse. 

9. Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises involve the pelvic floor muscles, where you contract and relax these muscles regularly. Kegel exercises have benefits for incontinence and other issues and may support better blood flow in the scrotum. 

10. Regular pain medicine

Sometimes the pain may be too much to bear, for these cases, you should speak with your doctor regarding the best painkiller medication for you.

If you suspect that you have symptoms and signs of varicocele, get examined by a physician since untreated varicocele may cause testicular failure, lower hormonal production and shrinking of the testes.

Dr Ashish Bajaj – M.B.B.S, M.D. in Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology

When to seek professional help for varicocele?

Varicocele will require medical attention whenever you notice symptoms, whether mild or severe. You may need to change your routine (such as less strenuous exercises) or even undergo surgery if your condition is acute. Here are some signs that you need to consult a doctor immediately:

  • Pain or aching in the scrotum that does not get better or gets worse with time
  • Visibly enlarged veins on the left side of the scrotum 
  • Enlarged veins on the right side may be an indication of even more serious issues
  • Your testicles do not seem to grow at the same rate 
  • Infertility
  • Testosterone levels are decreased 

Depending on your condition, your doctor will recommend the appropriate treatments or surgery. Surgeries may include laser, laparoscopic or open techniques to remove or tie up the affected vein.

Conclusion

Varicocele is not something that you need to worry about, even if your varicocele is at one of the more severe grades. There are plenty of techniques and medical options to fix this condition to fix the issue permanently. In many cases, your doctor may only recommend waiting and observing the varicocele rather than opting for surgery, especially if it does not have any symptoms. Speak with your doctor to find out what the best option is for you. 

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs)

What are the main symptoms of varicocele?

Pain or a sensation of heaviness in the scrotum, a mass on the scrotum, enlarged scrotal veins and infertility are some of the symptoms of varicocele. 

What is the cause of varicocele?

Varicocele is caused when the veins present in the scrotum region become weak or damaged. These damaged veins are not able to properly send blood back to your heart, leading to excess blood collecting in the veins. 

Can Varicocele decrease naturally?

Generally, varicocele is only permanently fixed through surgical intervention. You may be able to decrease your symptoms by avoiding certain exercises. Therefore do not delay in consulting a doctor for this problem.

What foods are good for varicocele?

Any healthy foods that are high in fibre can be good for people with varicocele. Poor fibre diets may result in extra strain and pressure when having a bowel movement, this can worsen your varicocele. Fibre-rich diets ensure smoother digestion and bowel movements. 

Disclaimer: The information included on this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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