The testicles are oval-shaped organs that sit in the scrotum, just behind the penis. Because they produce testosterone and sperm, they are essential for hormonal balance and reproduction. However, they are also subject to several conditions that can cause pain, infertility, and other complications. Here are the testicular conditions you should be aware of.
The epididymis is a coiled tube that runs along the back of each testicle. It stores immature sperm until the sperm has matured and is ready to be released. Epididymitis occurs when the epididymis becomes infected. It can happen to males of all ages.
Symptoms of epididymitis include scrotal redness or pain, one-sided testicular pain, pelvic pain, blood in the semen, and burning with urination.
In sexually active males under age 35, gonorrhea and chlamydia are leading causes of epididymitis, though other bacteria can cause the infection as well. Treatment of epididymitis typically includes antibiotics and over-the-counter pain relievers.
2) Testicular torsion
The spermatic cord is a tube-like structure that contains blood vessels and nerves and connects the testicle to the pelvis. Testicular torsion occurs when the testicle rotates, causing the spermatic cord to twist and cut off the testicle’s blood supply.
Testicular torsion causes sudden, severe, one-sided testicular pain and swelling. It’s most common in males ages 12-18, but it can happen in other age groups as well. Testicular torsion is an emergency because, without immediate surgery to correct the problem, the testicle can be irreversibly damaged. In some cases, a damaged testicle may have to be surgically removed, which can result in infertility and low testosterone production.
3) Testicular cancer
Each year, around 10,000 males in the U.S. are diagnosed with testicular cancer. It’s most common in younger men ages 15-35. Other risk factors include having an undescended testicle or a family history of testicular cancer. White males are at an increased risk compared to their Asian-American, Native American, or Black counterparts.
Because testicular cancer is highly treatable, especially in its early stages, it’s important for males ages 15-40 years old to do a monthly self-testicular exam. If any masses or other abnormalities are detected, patients should seek immediate medical attention. A scrotal ultrasound is often performed to further evaluate any abnormality detected on an exam.
Orchitis occurs when a testicle becomes inflamed or infected by a virus or bacteria. In sexually active males, orchitis can be caused by sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Orchitis can also be caused by bacteria introduced into the urethra by a urinary tract infection or a urinary catheter.
Males who haven’t completed the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine series are at a high risk of viral orchitis caused by mumps, which can permanently impact fertility.
Symptoms of orchitis include one-sided testicular pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and malaise. Completing the MMR vaccine series and practicing safe sex are two of the best ways to lower the risk of contracting orchitis.
Maintaining good testicular health is important for overall well-being and reproductive health. Men can take proactive steps by being aware of the common conditions that affect the testicle and its symptoms. Remember to perform monthly self-exams and seek medical care if any unusual symptoms arise. If you are sexually active, it's important to be tested as these conditions can be caused by gonorrhea and chlamydia. STD testing is easy and can be done at urgent care 7 days a week.
Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant