What Women Should Know About Hydroceles
About 1 percent of adult men develop a hydrocele, which occurs when excess fluid surrounds one or both testicles and causes swelling in the scrotum, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Most adult cases of hydroceles occur in men older than age 40.
"The most important thing is that hydroceles are benign, but if they become bothersome, they can be treated with a minor surgical procedure," said Rena Malik, M.D., a urologist based in the Baltimore area.
Even though this condition can't be prevented, it's important for men and their partners to be aware of any testicular abnormalities, she said. Instead of relying solely on Google to determine why your partner's scrotum is swollen, encourage him to see a urologist.
A urologist can test the enlarged scrotum by shining a light through it—a procedure called transillumination—and checking for clear fluid. They can confirm a man's hydrocele diagnosis and conduct a thorough health background check to determine any underlying health conditions that could have caused it. They can also assess any conditions that emerged because of it. For example, if a hydrocele is not treated, it can lead to an inguinal hernia. If a condition such as epididymitis is not treated, it can cause a hydrocele.
Here are some of the pertinent facts about hydroceles that women, as well as men, should know.
A hydrocele rarely requires surgery
Fortunately, a hydrocele often disappears without treatment. If it does need to be treated, it's because the swelling is painful and uncomfortable and won't go away on its own.
"It should only be treated if it's unsightly, if it's uncomfortable and if it's difficult to function without a surgical correction," said Elizabeth Kavaler, M.D., the medical director at Total Urology Care of New York and a urological surgeon/trans-vaginal surgeon. "We don't drain them or aspirate them. They're treated surgically."
Hydroceles can be asymptomatic
A hydrocele may be found incidentally, because a man might not experience any symptoms or physically have any swelling in their scrotum.
"If an ultrasound is done for another reason, and if they are incidental, we don't treat them," Kavaler explained. "We only treat them if they're unsightly or uncomfortable. And that's because they're getting very swollen and difficult to function."
A hydrocele doesn't generally affect intercourse
The condition won't affect a partner's comfort level in any way during sexual intercourse, though it could affect the man's.
"It can get in the way of sex if it's uncomfortable for a man, but it's not in any way dangerous to their partner," Kaveler said.
Hydroceles isn't a widely known condition
According to Kavaler, hydroceles aren't something many men or women know about, but men and their partners should educate themselves on different testicular conditions or see a doctor at any sign of physical abnormality.
A hydrocele isn't always the diagnosis for a swollen scrotum
If your partner has a swollen scrotum, it's important for them to see a urologist, because the condition could be a hydrocele or it could be a hernia, tumor or another testicular condition that causes swelling.
Hydroceles are more common in babies
About 10 percent of newborn males have a hydrocele, which presents as painless swelling.
During the seventh month of fetal development, the testicles move from the abdomen into the scrotum, according to Boston Children's Hospital. When the testicle travels downward, it brings the sac-like lining of the abdominal cavity with it. The sac allows fluid present in the abdomen to surround the testicle.
A hydrocele in a newborn typically goes away on its own within six to 12 months, but if not, it may be surgically treated.
Males going through puberty can also develop a hydrocele. In this case, it's important to evaluate and stay on top of it, because it can occasionally be an early sign of a testicular tumor or another underlying health condition.
Fortunately for most males who get them, hydroceles don't cause infertility and won't affect their quality of life. In general, fluid in the scrotum is not a cause for concern, even if it can look alarming during a self-examination. Men may choose to have the fluid drained with a needle, but it's not always recommended because the fluid can reaccumulate. When absolutely necessary, surgical treatment is the best course of action because it addresses the underlying problem causing the overproduction of fluid.