Know When a Hydrocele Requires a Visit to the Doctor
A hydrocele is a relatively routine testicular condition in which a sac of fluid is formed in the thin sheath that surrounds a testicle, causing swelling in the scrotum. Millions of men have had one at some point; at least 5 percent of male babies are born with them, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Generally, the condition is not too serious. Hydroceles are often painless and go away on their own. Sometimes, however, they can cause discomfort to the point where surgical intervention is required. Plus, a hydrocele may be an indication of something more threatening to your health.
Let's take a look at what hydroceles are, how they form, the different types and when you should seek the advice of a doctor.
How do hydroceles develop?
When a male fetus is near the end of his gestational term, the testicles descend from inside the abdomen into the scrotum. As the baby is developing, each testicle has a fluid-containing sac surrounding it. Typically, this sac closes itself off at some point during the baby's first year, and the fluid is absorbed into the body.
For babies with a hydrocele, this crucial last step doesn't take place, and the fluid-filled sac remains around the testicle. For adult men, typically those past age 40, a hydrocele can develop if the opening where the testicle originally descended hasn't closed properly or if it reopens as a result of trauma or inflammation. Fluid from the body cavity then moves into the scrotum, leading to the formation of a hydrocele.
Types of hydroceles and how they affect you
There are two types of hydroceles: communicating and noncommunicating.
The non-communicating type is usually a mild, painless condition in which the sac containing the fluid closes up and traps the fluid inside. Noncommunicating hydroceles typically resolve themselves within six months to a year as the fluid is reabsorbed into the body.
A communicating hydrocele, on the other hand, is one in which the opening hasn't closed, allowing fluid to pass in and out. If you notice scrotal swelling that seems to grow smaller and larger at various times of day, you may have a communicating hydrocele.
This communicating type of hydrocele is the most troubling. That's because with the passageway open from the abdomen to the scrotum, a loop of intestine could drop down and become trapped in the opening, resulting in an inguinal hernia.
When should you see a doctor about a hydrocele?
For infants, a hydrocele usually goes away within a year; for adults, it's about six months to a year. If it lasts longer, it's time to explore options with your doctor.
As mentioned above, if you notice swelling in your scrotum that regularly changes size over the course of the day, see a doctor sooner rather than later and ask about a communicating hydrocele. If it leads to an inguinal hernia, it can be painful or even life-threatening.
But truthfully, if you notice any type of swelling in your testicles that becomes uncomfortable and doesn't subside, you should see a doctor. The pain could be linked to an underlying condition that's more grave, such as a tumor or an infection.
You should take any abnormality in your scrotum and testicles seriously: Don't ignore any changes or discomfort down there. While hydroceles are relatively harmless and often simply go away, they can also indicate more serious conditions.
If your doctor says you've got a simple hydrocele, you may only need to wait it out—but at least you'll be able to do so worry-free.