Can Ultrasound Findings be a Good Predictor of Sperm Parameters in Patients With Varicocele? A Cross-Sectional Study


Ali Mahdavi 1 , * , Reza Heidari 2 , Mehrdad Khezri 1 , Abolfazl Shiravi 1 , Reyhaneh Pirjani 2 , Reyhaneh Saheb Kashaf 1

1 Department of Radiology, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, IR Iran

2 School of Medicine, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, IR Iran

How to Cite: Mahdavi A, Heidari R, Khezri M, Shiravi A, Pirjani R, et al. Can Ultrasound Findings be a Good Predictor of Sperm Parameters in Patients With Varicocele? A Cross-Sectional Study, Nephro-Urol Mon. 2016 ; 8(5):e37103. doi: 10.5812/numonthly.37103.


Nephro-Urology Monthly: 8 (5); e37103
Published Online: July 31, 2016
Article Type: Research Article
Received: March 8, 2016
Revised: June 9, 2016
Accepted: June 18, 2016


Background: Varicocele, one of the most common causes of sperm abnormalities in men, is the dilation of the testicular vein (the pampiniform venous plexus) by more than 2 mm. Ultrasonography is the primary imaging procedure for varicocele diagnosis. The venous diameter is evaluated using B-mode sonography, and venous reflux is assessed using color Doppler sonography.

Objectives: In this study, we investigated the association of ultrasound findings with sperm parameters in patients with varicocele.

Methods: Ninety-nine patients with clinically diagnosed varicocele were included in this study, which was performed at a university imaging center. Patients were evaluated for pampiniform venous plexus diameter, venous reflux, and testicular size on both sides. Semen analysis was performed for all patients. The ultrasonography parameters and semen analysis data were compared to assess the correlations between the results.

Results: The semen analysis parameters, including semen volume and sperm morphology, count, and motility, significant correlations with the diameter of the varicocele vein but were not correlated with testes size. In addition, the patients with reflux of longer than 1 s and those with reflux of less than 1 s had significant differences in sperm parameters and varicocele size.

Conclusions: Our study showed that ultrasonography findings can be a good predictor of sperm parameters in patients with varicocele.

1. Background

Varicocele is the abnormal tortuosity and dilation of the testicular veins (the pampiniform plexus) of more than 2 mm caused by venous reflux in the testes (1-5). Varicocele occurs primarily on the left side and is more prevalent at young ages. The prevalence of palpable varicocele is 15% in the general male population and 21% - 39% in subfertile men (6-8). Varicocele is among the most common causes of reduced sperm count and quality, leading to infertility and subfertility (9). Physical examination is the standard diagnostic method for detecting varicocele, but the diagnosis of asymptomatic and impalpable varicocele is difficult. These conditions can be detected only by using ultrasonography (3). Venous reflux is an important standard for the diagnosis of varicocele because reflux of more than 1 s increases the likelihood of infertility (10).

Color Doppler ultrasonography (CDUS) is the most sensitive, non-invasive diagnostic method for diagnosing varicocele. It has a sensitivity of 93%, while clinical examination has a sensitivity of approximately 71% (11). CDUS evaluates varicocele based on venous diameter, the presence or absence of reflux, and other relevant factors.

2. Objectives

In this study, we explored the correlation between ultrasonography (US) and semen analysis parameters.

3. Methods

This cross-sectional study was conducted in a university hospital, and the local research and ethics committee approved the research protocol. Patients with clinically confirmed or suspected varicocele (n = 134) were recruited for the study. Informed consent was obtained from each participant. Patients with secondary varicocele, traumatic injury, other pathologic disorders of the testis (e.g. tumor, hydrocele, spermatocele), or inflammation of the testis or epididymis were excluded. Using a Toshiba ultrasonography instrument (Tokyo, Japan) with a linear, multi-frequency probe (5 - 8.5 MHZ), a primary CDUS analysis was performed with all cases, and patients with venous diameters of more than 2 mm were selected for more analyses. Finally, 99 patients were selected for the study.

The selected cases were further evaluated using CDUS. The patients underwent normal scans using the Valsalva maneuver in the supine position. The evaluated parameters were the venous diameter of the pampiniform plexus, the presence or absence of venous reflux on both sides, and the longitude and transverse diameters of the testes. Reflux was quantified by duration and flow volume. Reflux of longer than 1 s was considered pathologic, while flow volume was calculated by multiplying the area by the mean velocity. Varicocele in the selected cases was classified as grade 0 (2 - 2.5 mm), grade 1 (2.5 - 3 mm), grade 2 (3 - 3.5 mm), or grade 3 (> 3.5 mm).

Then patients were referred to a laboratory for semen analysis, including semen volume and sperm morphology, count, and motility. Analysis was performed based on the world health organization laboratory manual issued in 1993 (9).

Statistical analysis was perfumed using the SPSS 17 package (Chicago, USA). The correlations between the variables were assessed using Spearman coefficients. The semen analysis parameters and CDUS findings for the samples with venous reflux of longer than 1 s and those with venous reflux of less than 1 s were compared between using student’s t-test. P-values of less than 0.05 were considered to be significant.

4. Results

This study was performed with 99 patients with varicocele confirmed by CDUS. The mean age of the selected patients was 34.3 ± 6.2 years (range: 23 - 50 years). Among the participants, 19 had a history of cigarette smoking (19.2%), 12 a history of alcohol use (12.1%), and 9 (9.1%) a history of mumps, while 41 had a history of surgery (6 bilateral and 7 unilateral varicocele surgery). The results for testes size measured in two dimensions and varicocele size are summarized in Tables 1 and 2. All patients had left varicocele, while right varicocele was observed in 53 cases (Table 2). The average size of varicocele on the left side was significantly greater than that of right-side varicocele (P < 0.001). Additionally, the grades of varicocele on the right and left sides were recorded. Most varicocele on both sides was grade 1 (42.4%) (Figure 1).

Table 1. Statistics for Testes Size (mm) Measured Into Two Dimensions (L: Longitudinal, T: Transverse)
NMinMaxMean ± SD
Right testis size (L)9919.0050.0041.5152 ± 4.28420
Right testis size (T)998.0029.0021.9000 ± 3.87877
Left testis size (L)9923.0049.0040.2929 ± 4.57645
Left testis size (T)9911.0029.0020.8889 ± 3.35605
Table 2. Statistics for Varicocele Size (mm) in Each Testis
NMinMaxMean ± SD
Left varicocele size992.004.402.8323 ± 0.54969
Right varicocele size5323.302.4047 ± 0.41721
Figure 1. Frequency of Grades of Varicocele on Both Sides

We also determined sperm analysis parameters, as summarized in Table 3. The average semen volume of participants was 2.6 ± 1.2 mL, the average sperm motility was 48.9 ± 24.4%, and the average sperm count was 45.1 ± 58.2 million.

Table 3. Statistics for Sperm Analysis Parameters
NMinMaxMean ± SD
Semen volume, mL650.507.802.6031 ± 1.22219
Total sperm motility, %830.0096.0048.8955 ± 24.37332
Normal sperm morphology, %830.0083.0016.0635 ± 17.86094
Count (× 106)860.00437.0045.0556 ± 58.24126

The correlation between the sperm analysis parameters and varicocele or testes size was calculated. The correlation coefficients between varicocele size and sperm count in the left and right testes were -0.6 and -0.7, respectively (P = 0.001). The correlation coefficients between varicocele size and sperm motility in the left and right testes were -0.61 and -0.78, respectively (P = 0.035). The correlation coefficients between varicocele size and abnormal sperm morphology in the left and right testes were 0.53 and 0.74, respectively (P = 0.04). The correlation coefficient between varicocele size and semen volume in the left and right testes was -0.61 (P = 0.045). The correlation coefficients of testes size with sperm count, sperm motility, abnormal sperm morphology, and semen volume were 0.35 - 0.49, 0.3 - 0.48, 0.25 - 0.45, and 0.15 - 0.25, respectively (P = 0.3).

Seventy-one (71) of 99 patients with left varicocele (71.7%) had reflux of longer than 1 s, while 14 of 53 patients with right varicocele (26.4%) had reflux of longer than 1 s. The sperm analysis parameters, varicocele size, and testes size were compared between the samples with reflux of longer than 1 s and reflux of less than 1 s in each testis (Tables 4 and 5). For the left testis, the groups had significant differences in semen volume, motility, morphology, and count (P < 0.05) but not testis size (P > 0.05). Patients with reflux had significantly greater varicocele size than patients without reflux (P < 0.05) (Table 4).

Table 4. Comparison of Sperm Analysis Parameters and Color Doppler Ultrasonography Findings for Samples With Reflux Time of Longer or Less Than 1 seconds in the Left Testis
Left Varicocele Reflux of Longer Than 1 sNMean ± SDP Value
No202.9 ± 1.3
Yes612.1 ± 1.1
Total motility0.03
No2260.8 ± 24.9
Yes6440.7 ± 23.9
No2112.7 ± 16.3
Yes6322.5 ± 19.6
No2555.8 ± 33.7
Yes6032.4 ± 76.5
Right testis size 10.6
No2841.7 ± 4.5
Yes7141.3 ± 4.0
Right testis size 20.36
No2823.9 ± 13.9
Yes7122.0 ± 3.1
Left testis size 10.3
No2840.8 ± 4.1
Yes7139.8 ± 5.6
Left testis size 20.38
No2821.2 ± 2.8
Yes7120.6 ± 3.9
Left varicocele size< 0.001
No282.5 ± 0.4
Yes713.2 ± 0.5
Table 5. Comparison of Testes Size and Color Doppler Ultrasonography Findings for Samples With Reflux Time of Longer or Less Than 1 s in the Left Testis
Right Varicocele Reflux of Longer Than 1 sNMean ± SDP Value
Right testis size (L)0.25
No8541.8471 ± 3.52375
Yes1439.5000 ± 7.28275
Right testis size (T)0.31
No8523.4235 ± 10.88618
Yes1420.4286 ± 4.73472
Left testis size (L)0.45
No8540.4353 ± 4.36285
Yes1439.4286 ± 5.82718
Left testis size (T)0.42
No8521.0000 ± 3.16228
Yes1420.2143 ± 4.44070
Left varicocele size0.088
No852.7941 ± 0.54097
Yes143.0643 ± 0.56515
Right varicocele size0.04
No392.3397 ± 0.45914
Yes142.5857 ± 0.17913

Similar findings were obtained for 14 patients with reflux of longer than 1 seconds on the right testis. For right-side varicocele, varicocele size was significantly greater in patients with reflux than patients without reflux (P < 0.05). Right testis size was not significantly different between the two groups (P > 0.05) (Table 5).

In this investigation, the cut-off point for diagnosis of varicocele was 2 mm and had acceptable sensitivity but not adequate specificity. Therefore, we decided to select a cut-off point with higher specificity, PPV, and NPV. Using statistical analysis, we determined that 2.6 mm was a reliable cut-off value to more effectively detect varicocele.

5. Discussion

We showed that semen analysis parameters, including semen volume and sperm morphology, count, and motility, had significant correlations with varicocele diameter but not testes size.

One study (12), which compared sperm analysis data and CDUS findings for 62 patients with varicocele, did not find any significant correlations between the analyzed parameters. This discrepancy with present results can be related to technical faults because ultrasonography is an operator-dependent technique. In addition, semen analysis results depend on the quality of the laboratory tools and technician’s skills.

Two studies (13, 14) found that patients with spermatogenesis disorder had smaller testes. Although the present research also found a relationship between testes size and spermatogenesis disorder, this relationship was not statistically significant, which might be due to the lack of a standard method for measuring testes size in this study.

In the present results, patients with reflux of longer than 1 seconds and those with reflux of less than 1 seconds had significantly different semen analysis parameters and varicocele size. Similar findings were reported by (15), who found a significant correlation between bilateral reflux and persistent reflux with sperm abnormalities.

Our inclusion criterion was varicocele diameter of more than 2mm, resulting in the exclusion of 35 men with a history of infertility from the study. However, further analysis revealed that a cut-off point of 2.6 mm in the supine position during the Valsalva maneuver was more reliable and efficient at detecting patients with varicocele (14) used a cut-off point of 2.48 mm in the standing position without the Valsalva maneuver.

We recommend that patients with a varicocele diameter of less than 2 mm be evaluated for venous reflux because reflux can occur without increasing the diameter of the pampiniform vein.


  • 1.

    Arslan H, Sakarya ME, Atilla MK. Clinical value of power Doppler sonography in the diagnosis of varicocele. J Clin Ultrasound. 1998; 26(4) : 229 [PubMed]

  • 2.

    Cornud F, Belin X, Amar E, Delafontaine D, Helenon O, Moreau JF. Varicocele: strategies in diagnosis and treatment. Eur Radiol. 1999; 9(3) : 536 -45 [DOI][PubMed]

  • 3.

    Keoghane SR, Kabala JE. Varicocele embolisation. Imaging. 2001; 13(1) : 11 -7 [DOI]

  • 4.

    Sigmund G, Gall H, Bahren W. Stop-type and shunt-type varicoceles: venographic findings. Radiology. 1987; 163(1) : 105 -10 [DOI][PubMed]

  • 5.

    Heidari R, Alizadeh R, Abbasi N, Pasbakhsh P, Hedayatpour A, Farajpour M, et al. Do Pilea Microphylla Improve Sperm DNA Fragmentation and Sperm Parameters in Varicocelized Rats? Acta Med Iran. 2015; 53(9) : 547 -54 [PubMed]

  • 6.

    Gonda RJ, Karo JJ, Forte RA, O'Donnell KT. Diagnosis of subclinical varicocele in infertility. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1987; 148(1) : 71 -5 [DOI][PubMed]

  • 7.

    Hoekstra T, Witt MA. The correlation of internal spermatic vein palpability with ultrasonographic diameter and reversal of venous flow. J Urol. 1995; 153(1) : 82 -4 [DOI][PubMed]

  • 8.

    Meacham RB, Townsend RR, Rademacher D, Drose JA. The incidence of varicoceles in the general population when evaluated by physical examination, gray scale sonography and color Doppler sonography. J Urol. 1994; 151(6) : 1535 -8 [PubMed]

  • 9.

    Franken DR, Acosta AA, Kruger TF, Lombard CJ, Oehninger S, Hodgen GD. The hemizona assay: its role in identifying male factor infertility in assisted reproduction. Fertil Steril. 1993; 59(5) : 1075 -80 [PubMed]

  • 10.

    Mihmanli I, Kurugoglu S, Cantasdemir M, Zulfikar Z, Halit Yilmaz M, Numan F. Color Doppler ultrasound in subclinical varicocele: an attempt to determine new criteria. Eur J Ultrasound. 2000; 12(1) : 43 -8 [PubMed]

  • 11.

    Goldberg S. Diagnostic ultrasound. 1998;

  • 12.

    Ghafoori M, Rostampour A. Evaluation of the Relation of Diameter and Reflux to Sperm Analysis in Varicocele Patients in Hashemi Nejad Hospital in the year 2003. Razi J Med Sci. 2006; 13(51) : 157 -64

  • 13.

    Keene DJ, Sajad Y, Rakoczy G, Cervellione RM. Testicular volume and semen parameters in patients aged 12 to 17 years with idiopathic varicocele. J Pediatr Surg. 2012; 47(2) : 383 -5 [DOI][PubMed]

  • 14.

    Akhavan Rezayat K, Mansour Ghanaei F, Alizadeh A, Shafaghi A, Babaei Jandaghi A. Doppler surrogate endoscopy for screening esophageal varices in patients with cirrhosis. Hepat Mon. 2014; 14(1)[DOI][PubMed]

  • 15.

    Tahmasbi M, Assare E. Quantitative doppler assessment of flow characteristics in pampiniform venous plexus, in patients with varicocele: Is there any relationship with semen analysis? PJR. 2016; 20(3)

  • Copyright © 2016, Nephrology and Urology Research Center. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License ( which permits copy and redistribute the material just in noncommercial usages, provided the original work is properly cited.