A varicocele is a swollen vein inside the scrotum. It forms when valves inside the veins that run along the cord that hold up your testicles prevent blood from flowing correctly. As blood backs up, the veins swell and widen, similar to varicose veins in the legs.

Varicoceles usually develop slowly. They are more common in men ages 15–25, and most often develop on the left side of the scrotum. In older men, varicoceles that appear suddenly may be caused by a kidney tumor blocking blood flow to a vein.

At University of Maryland Medical Center, our specialists use interventional radiology for nonsurgical treatment of varicocele.

Varicocele Symptoms

A doctor's examination can confirm the presence of a varicocele, and an ultrasound may allow further evaluation. Not all men have symptoms when a varicocele is present; those that do may experience:

  • Dull ache or discomfort
  • Enlarged, twisted scrotum veins
  • Painless testicle lump
  • Problems with fertility or decreased sperm count
  • Swelling

Varicocele Embolization

During varicocele embolization, your doctor will use X-ray imagery to insert a small tube (catheter) into a vein and place tiny coils or a liquid substance to divert blood flow away from the varicocele.

Less invasive than conventional surgery, embolization safely relieves pain and swelling and may improve sperm quality. You will have a shorter recovery time and the same 90 percent success rate as those who had open surgery varicocele repair.

Other Varicocele Treatments

Open Varicocele Surgery

Under general or local anesthetic, your doctor will make an incision through your groin or abdomen and use a surgical microscope for a better view of the treatment area. Doppler ultrasound helps guide the surgeon to complete the procedure.

Laparoscopic Varicocele Surgery

In laparoscopic surgery, your doctor uses a lighted tube with a magnifying camera, inserted through a small incision to reach the varicocele. The camera sends images to a video monitor which allows us to see the inside of the scrotal area. We then use specially designed instruments to cut and close the veins without major tissue damage.