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Understanding Varicocele Embolization

Front view of male genitals with varicocele.Varicocele embolization is a procedure to treat an enlarged vein in a man’s scrotum. Your healthcare provider will use a long thin tube (catheter) and a tiny coil or medicine to block the flow of blood to the varicocele. The blood will then flow in the veins around the blocked vein. The varicocele will go away.

What is a varicocele?

A varicocele is an abnormal enlargement (dilation) of veins in the scrotum. Your scrotum is the sac that contains your testes. Sperm are made in the testes. Sperm travel in semen from the testes through tiny tubes (ducts) and to the urethra.

A varicocele is like a varicose vein in the leg. Normally, valves inside the veins keep blood flowing in one direction. Sometimes the valves do not work well. This is the most common cause of a varicocele. Varicoceles often form during puberty.

Why varicocele embolization is done

A varicocele usually does not cause symptoms. Your healthcare provider may find a varicocele during an exam of your scrotum and testes.

You may need a varicocele embolization if you:

  • Have symptoms such as pain or swelling

  • Are not able to have a child (infertile)

  • Want to prevent problems such as infertility or shrinking (atrophy) of the testes

Embolization is one treatment for a varicocele. Surgery can also be done to treat a varicocele. Talk with your healthcare provider about which treatment is best for you.

How varicocele embolization is done

Your procedure will be done by an interventional radiologist. This is a doctor who specializes in image-guided procedures. Your healthcare provider will put a needle into a vein in your thigh. He or she will insert a catheter into the vein. Your provider will use the catheter to put a small coil or a special liquid into the affected vein. This is called a blocking agent.

Risks of varicocele embolization

All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure include:

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Allergic reaction to medicine used during the procedure (for example, dyes used for X-ray)

  • Movement of the coil used to block the varicocele

  • Back pain

  • Swelling of the scrotum or vein

  • Failure of the procedure to work

  • Return of the varicocele

Your risk may vary depending on your age and overall health. It also depends on the location and severity of the varicocele. Talk with your healthcare provider about which risks apply most to you.

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