Varicocele: A Common Form of Male Infertility

According to recent estimates, roughly six million Americans are affected by infertility today and need medical support in order to have their family. In 20% of these cases, the underlying cause is male factor infertility. In 30-40% of these cases, infertility results from both the male and female partner.

A common type of male factor infertility is called a varicocele. Varicocele refers to enlarged and twisted veins along the cord that holds up a man's testicles. Varicocele is most common in men 15-25 years of age and sometimes presents itself with no external symptoms. Sometimes however, one testicle will appear to be larger in size than the other. Other symptoms may include a painless testicle lump, scrotal swelling, or bulge within the scrotum. You may also experience an aching pain within the scrotum, a feeling of heaviness, or visibly enlarged veins. Varicocele is caused when the valves found inside the veins of the spermatic cord stop blood from flowing properly, resulting in a blood back up.

If you suspect that you have a varicocele, or are undergoing a routine infertility workup, your urologist will conduct a full body physical exam. Diagnosis of the varicocele will be done through the use of an ultrasound of the groin area, scrotum and testicles.

In and of itself a varicocele is harmless. If however, infertility results from the varicocele, treatment may be required to correct the problem. Your urologist may recommend a varicocelectomy, which is the surgical correction of the varicocele. Varicocelectomy is done on an outpatient basis. A possible alternative to surgery is embolization, which is a minimally invasive treatment usually performed by a radiologist. Insurance generally covers these procedures.

Men may not settle around the TV set watching the world series and talking about varicoceles. Bonding issues aside, male factor infertility is very common and in any group of men you find it is likely that several guys are grappling with this issue.

If fatherhood is your goal, seek out the support of a reliable board certified urologist. Path2Parenthood has a free referral service that is a great place to start. Get yourself to the right doctor, and get on the road to family.

Reprinted with permission from