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How Does Varicocele Affect Male Fertility?

Infertility affects both genders in several ways. 

In fact, research shows that men and women share an equal responsibility of roughly one-third as being the main cause of infertility for couples, with a combination of male and female issues comprising the remaining portion.

With that in mind, male infertility typically involves one having a low sperm count. Varicocele—swollen veins within the testicles—is the main contributor to poor sperm levels and can have a negative effect on those wishing to start a family.

Understanding your challenges with getting pregnant is the first step to finding a solution, so if you think varicocele may be the culprit, here's how it affects male fertility and what you can do to mitigate it with fertility treatment options:

What is Varicocele?

Varicocele represents swollen veins of the scrotal/testicular region that affects the temperature regulation of the scrotum and quality of sperm.

Similar to varicose veins that form in the legs, varicocele only occurs in the scrotum and mainly forms on the left side. Essentially, spermatic cords within the testicles house a network of veins, arteries, and nerves that direct blood flow and sensations to the rest of the body. These valves in the scrotum only flow in one direction before recirculating back to the heart, so if any areas along the way experience malfunctions, blood begins to pool which causes enlargement. 

Studies show that 15% of the adult male population suffers from varicocele. 

What are the Symptoms of Varicocele?

Although the main cause of varicocele is unknown, its symptoms are relatively easy to diagnose. Here's a breakdown of some issues that a male partner may experience:

  • Swelling in the testicles
  • Faint, consistent pain in the scrotum
  • Testicles may shrink in size or atrophy
  • Protruding or lumpy veins in the scrotum
  • Lumps in one or both testicles
  • Dry spells after ejaculation or low sperm production (oligospermia)

Often times, couples come in for a fertility assessment and the male partner may describe pain within the scrotum. At this time, a specialist may test for sperm abnormalities with a scrotal ultrasound to see if varicocele is the root cause.

How Does Varicocele Affect Fertility?

Since veins and arteries within the scrotum swell or tangle, sperm doesn't have a clear path to flow well during ejaculation. 

The result is a low sperm count that decreases the odds of getting pregnant, or no semen production whatsoever in severe cases. On the other hand, a male partner may still produce semen upon ejaculation, but the quality of sperm is subject to deficiencies that compromise a successful pregnancy and deflate a couples' hopes. 

Needless to say, there are treatments out there to repair varicocele and increase the odds of having a natural pregnancy. 

Treatment Options for Varicocele

If a male partner undergoes varicocele surgery, they can expect to see an increase of sperm count within approximately 3 months post-op. After the 3-month period, they will take another sperm analysis to gauge their levels and overall success of the procedure. 

These two treatment options for varicocele can improve male fertility within a modest period of recovery:

Catheter-directed Embolization

A non-surgical procedure that uses a catheter inside the groin to penetrate the testicular vein and diagnose the origin of the blockage or entanglement. 

Using a series of tools, a radiologist restricts blood flow to the affected area and redirects it to healthy connections that relieve pressure. The procedure takes 2-hours to complete, with 1 to 2 days of recovery time. 

Surgical Ligation

A more invasive form of rectifying varicocele, surgical ligation involves a patient undergoing anesthesia and having a small incision made above the scrotum.

A surgeon then cuts into the testicular vein and tapers off the affected area with sutures. The good news is that patients can leave the hospital within 24 hours of having the surgery. However, it's normal for recovery times to last well into 2 or 3 weeks at home. 

Varicocele is Manageable with the Right Guidance

Dealing with varicocele can be a challenge, but with the right guidance, it's certainly manageable. 

Fertility specialists at Kofinas Fertility Group can walk you through your treatment options and help you choose a path that leads to you having the family of your dreams. That being said, before jumping to any conclusions on your own, it's always best to discuss your concerns with a professional to receive expert counsel. 

Don't waste another minute worrying about your pregnancy odds—take action today and request an appointment!

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