Varicocele Surgery: What You Need to Know

Infertility is frustrating and heartbreaking for couples who want to have a baby. In most cases of infertility, there isn’t an easy solution. However, there are several factors that should be looked at medically. One such factor for men is varicocele surgery. Here’s what you need to know about this common surgical procedure.

What is a Varicocele?

Varicoceles are enlarged veins in the scrotum. These veins become abnormally swollen when the valves inside the vein keep blood from properly flowing. Most often, varicoceles occur on the left side of the scrotum.  Varicoceles are similar to the more commonly known varicose veins in the legs. This vein condition is usually not painful, and most men don’t know they have it unless a doctor tells them. An estimated 15 percent of all healthy men and 35 percent of men with infertility issues have varicoceles. 

How Do Varicoceles Affect Fertility?

Varicoceles affect men with both primary and secondary infertility. The purpose of a man’s scrotum is to hold the testicles away from the body in order to keep sperm cool. Sperm needs to be kept at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure healthy movement. The increased blood flow from varicocele veins increases the temperature of sperm stored in the scrotum, which decreases their ability to fertilize an egg. 

What Happens During Varicocele Surgery?

Since varicocele veins aren’t usually painful, infertility is the main reason men choose to have surgery, also called varicocelectomy. The surgery is an out-patient procedure. First, the patient undergoes either local or general anesthesia. Then, the doctor makes an incision, tying off the affected vein and changing the flow of blood into other veins. 

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Surgery?

You should be able to resume most normal activities two days after surgery. For strenuous exercise, doctors recommend waiting two weeks to heal. The pain associated with this surgery is mild, and most men feel better after taking over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers. Post-surgery, patients are also advised to apply an ice pack to the affected area and to elevate the scrotum whenever possible.

What is the Success Rate?

A 2012 study by the University of Padova in Italy found that “varicocele repair is associated with a significant improvement of sperm concentration, motility, and normal morphology.” The study cited a spontaneous pregnancy rate of 30 percent after surgery. Keep in mind that new sperm need least three months to grow, so sperm quality and pregnancy are unlikely to occur before this time.  

Varicoceles are one of the main causes of male infertility. Surgery to correct this issue has been found to improve sperm quality and increase chances for conception.