Testicular Torsion

Testicular torsion is an emergency condition. It happens when the spermatic cord, which provides blood flow to the testicle, rotates and becomes twisted.

The twisting cuts off the testicle's blood supply and causes sudden pain and swelling. Testicular torsion (also called testis torsion) requires immediate surgery to save the testicle. If testicular torsion goes on for more than a few hours, it can permanently damage the testicle, and a damaged testicle must be removed. The amount of twisting can be anywhere from 180-720 degrees. The degree of twisting affects how quickly a testicle gets damaged. As a general rule, within about 4 to 6 hours, the testicle can be saved 90% of the time. After 12 hours, this drops to 50%; after 24 hours, the testicle can be saved only 10% of the time.

The scrotum is the sack of skin beneath the penis. Inside the scrotum are two testes (plural of testis), also called testicles. Each testicle is connected to the rest of the body by a blood vessel called the spermatic cord. Testicular torsion happens when a spermatic cord becomes twisted, cutting off the flow of blood to the attached testicle. Most cases of testicular torsion affect guys who have a condition called a bell clapper deformity. In most males, the testicles are attached to the scrotum, making it hard for them to twist. In males who have the bell clapper deformity, the testicles are unsecured and can move and twist in the scrotum. Testicular torsion can happen to boys and men of any age, but is most common in 12- to 18-year-olds. It can happen after strenuous exercise, while someone is sleeping, or after an injury to the scrotum. A lot of times, though, there is no apparent cause.

If you have a testicular torsion, chances are you'll know it.

  • You'll feel a sudden, possibly severe pain in your scrotum and one of your testicles.
  • The pain might increase and decrease but generally won't go away completely.
  • Swelling, especially on one side of the scrotum
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly pain
  • One testicle appears to be higher than the other

If you have a sudden pain in your scrotum, call a doctor and get to a hospital or doctor's office as soon as you can. Don't eat or drink anything until you've seen a doctor and found out if you'll need surgery. Testicular torsion is an emergency: When it happens, a guy needs surgery — fast. Saving the testicle becomes more difficult the longer the spermatic cord stays twisted.

Sometimes, the spermatic cord can become twisted and then untwist itself without treatment. This is called torsion and detorsion, and it can make testicular torsion more likely to happen in the future. If your spermatic cord untwists and the pain goes away, it might be easy to ignore it, but you should call the doctor anyway. Ignoring pain for too long or simply hoping it goes away can result in severe damage to your testicle and might lead to your testicle being removed.

 

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor will examine your scrotum, testicles, abdomen, and groin and might test your reflexes by rubbing or pinching the inside of your thigh. This normally causes the testicle to contract, which probably won't happen if you have a testicular torsion.

The doctor also might do tests to see if the spermatic cord is twisted, including:

  • Ultrasound. High-frequency (Doppler) waves are used to make an image of the testicle and check the blood flow.
  • Urine tests or blood tests. These can find if the pain and symptoms are being caused by an infection instead of a torsion.

How is it treated?

Testicular torsion almost always requires surgery to correct. In rare cases, the doctor might be able to untwist the spermatic cord by pushing on the scrotum, but most guys will still need surgery to attach both testicles to the scrotum to prevent torsion from happening in the future.

Usually, surgery for a testicular torsion doesn't require a stay in the hospital. If you have a torsion, you'll be taken into an operating room at the hospital or doctor's office. You'll most likely be given a painkiller and general anesthesia, meaning you'll be unconscious for the surgery.A surgeon or urologist will make a small cut in the scrotum, untwist the spermatic cord, and stitch the testicles to the inside of the scrotum to prevent future torsions. When that's finished, the doctor will stitch up the scrotum, and the patient will be taken to a room to recover for an hour or two.The surgery to attach the testicles to the scrotum takes about 45 minutes. There may be some pain, but it shouldn't be too bad. It's much better than the torsion.Sometimes, if the torsion goes on too long, doctors won't be able to save the affected testicle. Doctors will need to remove it through a type of surgery called an orchiectomy.

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