Varicocele Embolization

A varicocele embolization is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat swollen veins in the scrotum.

A varicocele is a swollen vein in the scrotum that is similar to a varicose vein in the leg. Varicoceles can cause significant pain and other complications – including infertility.

What causes a varicocele?

In healthy veins, there is a one-way valve that allows blood to flow from the testicles and scrotum to the heart. In a varicocele, these valves fail and blood pools, which causes the vein to swell. This condition is most common in men ages 15-35.

What are the symptoms of a varicocele?

In some cases, there are no symptoms. When symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Pain in the testicles that increases when exercising, standing or sitting for long periods
  • Testicular atrophy (shrinkage)
  • Prominent veins in the scrotum

A varicocele typically is diagnosed through a physical examination, although your physician may order an ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis.

What is a varicocele embolization?

Henry Ford interventional radiologists offer a minimally invasive procedure known as a varicocele embolization, which can relieve the pain and improve sperm fertility. This treatment uses a catheter (tube) to place a metal coil, a balloon or other materials into the varicocele. This embolizes, or blocks, the abnormal vein, reducing the pressure and diverting blood flow back to healthy veins. Varicocele embolization is an effective alternative to traditional surgery, and it features:

  • Less risk
  • Less pain
  • Shorter recovery time

What happens during the varicocele embolization procedure?

A varicocele embolization is an advanced procedure that uses fluoroscopy – a type of medical imaging that displays a live X-ray image on a monitor – to ensure accurate placement of the embolic agents.

During the varicocele embolization treatment:

  • Your skin is sterilized at the injection site.
  • You are administered a local anesthetic to numb the injection area. Many patients also receive sedation by IV to put them into a “twilight” state.
  • You are positioned on the fluoroscopy X-ray table.
  • Your interventional radiology physician makes a small incision in your groin or neck area.
  • Your physician inserts a catheter into one of the blood vessels in your leg or neck, and guides it to the targeted vein to the scrotum, using the fluoroscopic image for reference.
  • Once the catheter is positioned, the embolic agent (coil, balloon or other material) is placed to block the varicocele.
  • The catheter is removed.
  • The procedure typically takes about an hour or two.

What happens after the varicocele embolization procedure?

After your varicocele embolization procedure, you will be moved to a recovery room and monitored by your care team. In most cases, varicocele embolizations are performed on an outpatient basis and you will go home the same day, although some patients stay overnight to recover following the procedure. In most cases, you can also resume normal activity within 24 hours. Follow-up may consist of clinical follow-up (symptom resolution) or repeat semen analysis in three months, if treating infertility.

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