When you hear the term varicose veins the first thing that probably comes to mind is the image of those bluish, bulging veins in the legs. You may be surprised to learn that varicose veins can form in other regions of the body, such as the arms, pelvic area and vulva. Men can develop varicocele, also known as penile varicose veins, a condition where the pampiniform plexus veins in the scrotum become enlarged. Here is some information on varicoceles: testicular varicose veins, what they are and how they can be treated.
For everything you need to know about the causes and symptoms of varicose veins: Varicose Veins Explained.
Varicoceles usually form during puberty. It’s estimated that 10-15% of boys have varicoceles without even knowing it, since testicular varicose veins rarely exhibit symptoms. Generally, varicoceles tend to occur more on the left side of the scrotum.
When varicoceles become problematic
If varicoceles show no symptoms should you be concerned? Experts say yes (potentially). The problem with varicoceles is that they can grow larger and lead to complications over time. Just as with legs, these veins can become distended, twisted, swollen and uncomfortable.
Once varicoceles reach a certain size you may start experiencing symptoms. These include lumps in one of your testicles, swelling in your scrotum, enlarged or twisted veins that are quite noticeable or a dull, recurring ache in your scrotum.
Experts also warn that if left untreated, this condition can lead to infertility problems. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 40% of fertility problems in men who are trying to farther their first child may be caused by varicoceles. The numbers are even higher (up to 80%) in men who have difficulty fathering additional children.
Diagnosing varicoceles: testicular varicose veins
The good news is that screening can detect varicoceles. If you’re experiencing discomfort, or you found the presence of something that feels like a “bag of worms” in your scrotum, your doctor can perform an examination during a routine visit.
Your doctor or urologists may use a technique called the “Valsalva maneuver.” You’ll be asked to stand and take a deep breath, hold it, and bear down while the doctor feels the scrotal area above the testicle. If enlarged veins are present your urologist will be able to detect them.
Varicoceles can also be diagnosed with ultrasound. It’s the same ultrasound device that clinicians use to confirm a pregnancy, only, in this case, it’s used to diagnose refluxed testicular veins that are wider than 3 millimetres. The ultrasound can also detect any abnormality in testicle size.
Treatment of varicoceles
If your doctor has confirmed the presence of penile varicose veins, they may recommend one of the following methods of treatment: surgery (called varicocelectomy) or a minimally-invasive procedure known as embolization (occluding the affected veins).
The surgical approach involves clamping off abnormal veins and allowing the blood to flow normally through other vessels. This procedure requires a visit to the hospital and general anaesthesia, although in most cases you’ll be able to go home the same day.
Some possible (but rare) complications include:
- Recurrence: the varicocele comes back
- Hydrocele: fluid accumulating around the testicle
- Damage: to the testicular artery
- Loss of testicle (extremely rare)
Another treatment option is Varicocele embolization. If your case is less severe, your doctor may recommend this procedure because it’s much less invasive than surgery and doesn’t require a hospital stay.
Varicocele embolization is an image-guided procedure whereby a catheter is used to place tiny coils into a blood vessel to divert blood away from the diseased vein. This prevents blood from flowing through the varicocele, essentially being rerouted to other veins just as with surgery.
Some minor and rare complications include:
- Bruising at the entry site
- Mild backache
Did you know that 30 per cent of Australian men will develop varicose veins? Learn more: Do Men Suffer From Varicose Veins?
Seek expert advice
The doctors at The Vein Institute specialise in varicose vein treatment. We offer patients a comprehensive treatment program to treat varicose veins, with non-surgical laser treatment techniques. The benefits of laser treatment to patients are;
- Walk-in walk-out treatment
- 98% success rate
- Extremely effective
- Can be performed at a clinic (no hospitalisation)
- No general anaesthetic
- Medicare rebates apply
- No downtime or time away from work