When was varicocele first identified?

Updated: Jan 02, 2019
  • Author: Wesley M White, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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In De Medicina, written during the first century AD, the Roman nobleman Cornelius Celsus credits the Greeks with the first description of a varicocele, and describes several forms of surgical intervention. [2]

In the 16th century. Ambroïse Paré (1500-1590), the most celebrated surgeon of the Renaissance, described this vascular abnormality and attributed it to melancholic blood. Barfield, a British surgeon, first proposed the relationship between infertility and varicocele in the late 19th century. Shortly thereafter, other surgeons reported the association of varicocele with an arrest of sperm secretion and the restoration of fertility following repair. Through the early 1900s, reports by other surgeons continued to describe the association of varicocele with infertility.

In the 1950s, after a report of fertility following varicocele repair in an individual known to be azoospermic (ie, without sperm), the idea of surgically correcting varicoceles as a clinical approach to certain kinds of male infertility gained support among American surgeons. Research continued, leading to many published studies that associated varicoceles with impaired semen quality. [3]

In these studies, researchers documented a recurrent pattern of low sperm count, poor motility, and predominance of abnormal sperm forms; this became known as the stress pattern of semen. Although not synonymous or specific to varicocele, the term suggests early evidence of testicular damage. Urologists then began to assess male infertility through the study of sperm, which are evaluated for count, percentage of motile forms, forward movement or motility, and morphology (shape or form); the semen is also evaluated.

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