A varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of veins in the scrotum which drain the testicle. For anatomic reasons, it most commonly occurs on the left side but may occur on the right or on both sides. It is present in up to 15 percent of the entire male population in the US. However, it is more common in men with difficulty conceiving, in whom up to 40 percent will have a varicocele.
How do varicoceles hurt the testicle?
An area of active male reproductive health research involves determining the exact mechanisms of varicocele-induced testicular damage. We know that the testicles hang below the body because normal testicular function requires temperatures slightly cooler than the rest of the body. Normal testicular blood flow helps regulate this temperature difference. It is believed that the abnormally large veins (varicoceles) impair normal temperature regulation and elevate scrotal temperatures enough to disrupt testicular function. Other theories that also have supporting evidence suggest that oxidative damage, accumulation of toxins, and elevated pressures may also contribute to varicocele-induced injury.