The three most common disorders that affect the scrotum, the sac beneath the penis that holds the testicles, include:
- Hydroceles, the collection of fluid within a section of the scrotum called the tunica vaginalis;
- Varicoceles, which is an enlarged group of veins above the testicles and along the vas deferens, a blood vessel-rich cord that connects the epididymis to the prostate gland; and
- Spermatoceles, which are sperm-filled cysts at the head of the epididymis, a coil of tubes behind the testicles where sperm are stored.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Hydrocele. When symptoms occur they may include a bulky, achy feeling in the scrotum.
Varicoceles. The most common symptom for varicoceles is a heavy, dragging, aching feeling in the scrotum, which often increases throughout the day.
Spermatoceles. There are usually no symptoms associated with spermatoceles. In some cases, they may grow large enough to create chronic pain or cause tight fitting clothes to be uncomfortable.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS
Hydrocele. A hydrocele is usually found in a newborn or a man older than 40 years of age. In infants, the condition is thought to occur because fluid leaks into the scrotum as the testicles move into the scrotum from the abdomen during fetal development. Some possible causes in adult men include:
- Trauma to the scrotal area;
- Inflammation or infection;
- A tumor;
- Kidney transplantation; or
- A twisted testicle.
Varicoceles. During adolescence, the testes may grow dramatically with more blood flowing into them. If a vein valve malfunctions, the blood may pool on returning to the heart, causing a varicocele.
Spermatoceles. A direct cause is unknown; however, it is believed that an obstruction in the epididymis causes spermatoceles.
Hydrocele. To diagnose hydroceles, the physician manipulates the scrotum and may order an ultrasound.
Varicoceles. When manipulating the scrotum during an examination, the physician will detect the varicocele because the scrotum feels as if it contains a “bag of worms.” To diagnose varicoceles, the physician may order one of the following:
- Doppler stethoscope;
- Doppler ultrasound;
- Venography; and
Spermatoceles. Because spermatoceles are small, they are usually discovered during a scrotal ultrasound for an unrelated condition.
Hydrocele. Hydroceles do not always require treatment; however, if treatment is required, a surgical procedure called hydrocelectomy is the treatment of choice. During the outpatient procedure, a physician makes an incision in the groin (in infants and children) or in the scrotum (in adults), drains the fluid, then stitches or partially removes the wall of the hydrocele sac to prevent the hydrocele from returning.
Varicoceles. For teenage boys with varicoceles, the physician usually recommends a varicocelectomy. This procedure involves tying off the affected veins. Physicians recommend this procedure for adults only when pain persists or the varicocele is causing fertility problems. Another treatment method, less commonly used by urologists, is embolization. In embolization, an embolic (blocking) agent is injected into the malfunctioning vein to block blood flow.
Spermatoceles. Treatment for a spermatocele is not necessary unless the cyst causes pain or discomfort. To treat a spermatocele, the physician may use sclerotherapy, the injection of a chemical agent that causes the veins to close and harden, or surgery to remove the sperm-filled cyst.