An undescended testicle, also known as cryptorchidism, is a testicle that has not moved into a proper position in the scrotum (bag of skin hanging below the penis) before birth.
A baby goes through several changes in the last few months of pregnancy. For boys, these changes also involve the movement of testicles from the lower belly to the scrotum. Testicle formation proceeds in the baby’s abdomen, advancing to the scrotum during the final period of fetal development. When one or both testicles do not descend into the scrotum during fetal development, this condition is called an undescended testicle.
About Undescended Testicle
In medical terms, undescended testicle are referred to as cryptorchidism.
In most cases, only one testicle of the child gets affected. However, in around 10% of cases, both testicles can be undescended. This condition is not very common. It mainly occurs in premature births.
The testicles descend to the scrotum on their own within 4 to 6 months after your child’s birth. However, if the condition does not get resolved within the first six months , it might require surgery.
What are the Symptoms of an Undescended Testicle?
Testicles are present in the scrotum. Scrotums are the bags of skin that hang below the penis. If you do not see or feel a testicle in the scrotal sacs , it can indicate undescended testicles.
There is a tubelike passage in the groin that connects the abdomen and scrotum. The testicles travel through this passage. If this process is delayed or stops, it results in undescended testicles.
What Causes Undescended Testicles?
The exact causes that lead to undescended testicles are not known yet. A combination of genetics, maternal health including other environmental factors may disrupt physical changes, nerve activity and hormones, that influence the development of testicles.
According to experts, a combination of some factors may lead to the condition of undescended testicles.
Undescended testicle concern is more likely to be diagnosed in the birth of premature baby boys. Around one-third of premature new born boys have this condition.
Apart from the other factors, when fibrous muscle or tissues do not stretch in the baby’s groin, it leads to undescended testicles. However, consulting a doctor is advisable to find out the correct cause of the issue.
When to see a doctor?
The doctors examine children shortly after birth. Undescended Testicle can get detected with such examination. If your son has this issue, talk to the doctor about it. Ask him how often you need to examine your baby.
The condition may correct itself within 4 to 6 months after birth. However, if this doesn’t happen, it probably will not heal by itself.
In such a case, you should talk to the doctor about the treatment when your son is still a baby. It will reduce the risk of further complications like infertility and testicular cancer that may occur later in life.
If you notice any changes in your son’s testicle position, consult a doctor.
What are the Risk Factors Associated with Undescended Testicles?
The causes of undescended testicles are unknown. However, a couple of factors may risk an undescended testicle.
The following factors can be responsible for an undescended testicle in a newborn baby boy:
- Premature birth.
- Low birth weight.
- Alcohol consumption and smoking in pregnancy by the mother
- Parent’s exposure to pesticides
- Family history of genital development complications
- Down syndrome
- Abdominal wall defect
Can Undescended Testicles Lead to Serious Health Complications?
The scrotum provides a cool body temperature to the testicles. Since they need a cooler environment, scrotum is the ideal place for testicles.
The following are the complications that may occur due to an undescended testicle:
What is the Treatment Option for Undescended Testicles?
Doctors may recommend surgical treatments to get testicles at the correct location. The earlier the treatment, the lower the risk of future complications. The following treatment options are available to treat undescended testicles:
The surgical treatments available to treat undescended testicles are laparoscopy or open surgery. The doctors manipulate the displaced testicle into the scrotum and stitch it into the correct location.
The doctors opt for a surgical treatment option after knowing several factors. It is advisable to go for surgery when your son is at least six months old. The surgery should be performed before he is older than one year. It will reduce the risk of complications that may occur later in life.
Once the doctor performs a surgery, testicles’ development and function will be monitored . The process may include:
- Physical examination
- An ultrasound test of the scrotum
- Hormone levels tests
Undescended testicles are also treated with human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) injection. It can make your son’s testicle move to the scrotum.
Generally, doctors do not advise hormone treatment as it is less effective than surgery.
Other treatments for undescended testicles are required when one or both testicles do not survive after surgery. In such cases, doctors recommend saline testicular prosthesis. This treatment provides a normal appearance to the scrotum.
Your son must have at least one healthy testicle. If he doesn’t have this, your doctor may advise you to visit a hormone specialist or endocrinologist for hormone treatments in the future which would be necessary to bring about puberty and physical maturity.
An undescended testicle is not a usual condition. If your baby does not have one or both testicles in his scrotum, they may normally descend over a period. However, if it does not resolve within six months, talk to the doctor.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How serious is an undescended testicle?
Undescended testicles can be a serious medical condition. It increases the risk of infertility. Apart from this, if the problem is left untreated, it can lead to testicular cancer, testicular twisting, and hernia. The condition can also lead to mental health issues in boys. An empty scrotum can cause psychological stress in males.
When should an undescended testicle be corrected?
An undescended testicle should get corrected within one year after the boy is born. However, doctors advise surgical treatment only when the boy is at least 18 years old in many cases.
What does an undescended testicle look like?
An undescended testicle can be detected as there will be an empty scrotum.
Can a man with one testicle have babies?
Yes, in most cases. One testicle can produce quality testosterone that is enough to ensure fertility . However, a male has to have at least one healthy testicle to have babies.
Is an undescended testicle a birth defect?
Yes. An undescended testicle is a birth defect. It occurs in 3% of boys. Undescended testicle is one of the most common birth defects.