What is the pathophysiology of varicocele?

Updated: Jan 02, 2019
  • Author: Wesley M White, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Varicoceles can have detrimental effects on sperm concentration, motility, and morphology, and can reduce sperm DNA integrity and other aspects of sperm function. [5]  Several theories have been proposed to explain the harmful effect of varicoceles on sperm quality, including the possible effects of pressure, oxygen deprivation, heat injury, and toxins.

Despite considerable research, none of the theories has been proved unquestionably, although an elevated heat effect caused by impaired circulation appears to be the most reproducible defect. Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that a varicocele created in an experimental animal led to poor sperm function with elevated intratesticular temperature. Regardless of the mechanism of action, a varicocele is indisputably a significant factor in decreasing testicular function and in reducing semen quality in a large percentage of men who seek infertility treatment.

An unproven hypothesis holds that a varicocele may represent a progressive lesion that can have detrimental effects on testicular function. [6] An untreated varicocele, especially when large, may cause long-term deterioration in sperm production and even testosterone production. If an infertile male has bilateral varicoceles, both are repaired to improve sperm quality.

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