Although it is quite unusual to have undescended testicles, they are probably more common than you think. In most cases, the testicles will drop down by themselves, but sometimes treatment is needed to correct the problem.
What Are Undescended Testicles?
An undescended testicle is one that isn’t in the usual position inside the scrotum. Instead, it is still sitting inside the abdomen. Although there won’t usually be any pain or other obvious symptoms, it is important to keep an eye on your son if they have an undescended testicle as it could cause problems later.
The testicles need to move outside the body as it is important for them to be kept at a lower temperature than other organs. When the testicles start producing sperm, the lower temperature will help these delicate cells to survive. If the testicles are still inside the body at this point, then it could cause fertility problems.
What Causes Undescended Testicles?
Undescended testicles happen because of the way that the testicles develop while babies are in the womb. The testicle form inside the abdomen or belly. When they are ready, they should slowly move down into the scrotum. The testicles usually reach the scrotum about 1-2 months before the baby is born.
However, sometimes the testicles don’t make it all of the way into the scrotum before the baby is born. We still don’t know exactly why this happens to some boys, but there aren’t usually any other health problems. The chances of having an undescended testicle are higher for boys who are born early, are very small at birth, or who have a family history of this condition.
A similar problem can happen if one of the testicles shifts back up into the body at a later age. Ascended testicles usually develop between the ages of 7-11. Most boys also have retractile testicles, which means that they can sometimes move in and out of the body. It usually happens in the cold or when they are shocked or excited and it stops happening with age.
How Common Are Undescended Testicles?
Undescended testicles aren’t that unusual in babies, but they are less common in older boys:
- 1 in 25 boys are born with one or more undescended testicle
- 1 in 100 boys have at least one testicle that stays undescended and needs treatment
- In 90% of cases, only one of the testicles is affected
- Most boys who are affected will have one normal testicle and one undescended testicle, but sometimes both testicles can be affected
Most babies who are born with undescended testicles won’t need any treatment to correct the issue. In most cases, the testicles will descend within six months. It seems to just take a little longer for the testicles to descend in some people, so it happens after they are born rather than before.
However, if the testicles don’t move by themselves, it may be necessary to help them along the way. A surgical procedure called an orchidopexy can shift the testicles into the correct position. The operation is usually performed between 6 and 12 months.