Spermatic cords include the vas deferens, which transport sperm, as well as arteries and veins that circulate blood to and from the testicles.
Sometimes valves that regulate this blood flow through the cords do not work properly.
When this happens, blood backs up and collects in pools in testicular veins, causing them to stretch and possibly damage testicular tissue. Researchers have recently noted an association between this condition and erectile dysfunction (ED).
"Inform your doctor of any erectile dysfunction."
Joseph J. Keller, MD, at the School of Medical Laboratory Sciences and Biotechnology, Taipei Medical University, Taiwan, and his collaborators examined data on 32,856 patients in Taiwan who had received a diagnosis of ED and noted how many had varicocele.
Then they analyzed a set of data on 98,568 random males who did not have ED. Scientists found that 1.2 percent of males in this control group had varicocele compared to 3.3 percent of the ED patients.
Researchers noted the highest association of varicocele and ED in the youngest cases—men between the ages of 18 and 29.
The prevalence of the condition decreased as the patient group age increased—up until age 60 and older. In this older group, investigators again noted a strong association between varicocele and ED.
Previous studies had shown that varicocele can lead to low sperm production and decreased sperm quality. Varicocele is often cited as a common cause of male infertility. Prior to this study, Dr. Keller and his colleagues found little research connecting varicocele with ED.
Patients with abnormally dilated veins in their testicles (varicoceles) may opt for surgical repair to improve testosterone levels and ejaculate quality.
This surgery, called varicocelectomy, is regarded by many doctors as a reasonable treatment option for men with varicoceles who are experiencing infertility and looking to have children.
Microsurgical varicocelectomy provides a safe and effective approach to varicocele repair with preservation of testicular function, improvements in semen quality, and improvements in pregnancy rates in a significant number of men, according to Weill Cornell Medical College, Department of Urology.
Costs for this surgery vary, but estimates range from $5,000 to $7,400.
When looking at patients in this study group who had received a varicocelectomy, scientists observed a lower association with ED compared to those who did not have the surgery.
“This may suggest the consideration of varicocelectomy as an option for patients suffering from reduced testosterone or ED,” said the study authors.
This study was published in the April edition of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The research is based in part on data from the National Health Insurance Research Database provided by the Bureau of National Health Insurance, Department of Health, Taiwan and managed by the National Health Research Institutes. No conflicts of interest were noted.