Approximately 1 in 25 boys are born with one or both undescended testicles. What does this mean and why does it happen? Keep reading to find out the answers.
What Are Undescended Testicles?
Undescended testicles happen when the developing testicles don’t move into the correct position. Usually, the testicles develop inside the abdomen while a baby boy is still in his mother’s womb. The testicles should then move down into the scrotum about 1-2 months before birth, so that they are in the right place when the baby arrives. However, this movement doesn’t always happen on time. Sometimes one or both of the testicles will fail to descend before the baby is born. This is most common when the baby is born prematurely, before the testicles have moved.
In most cases, when a baby is born with one or both testicles undescended, the problem will go away by itself. The testicles will shift into place within the first six months. If this doesn’t happen, then it can cause problems. If the testicles remain inside the body then it could lead to fertility problems later in life. Undescended testicles can also increase the risk of tumours, testicular torsion or injuries, and inguinal hernias.
Causes of Undescended Testicles
We can’t usually identify a specific cause for undescended testicles. Sometimes things just don’t go quite to plan during development. However, we do know that premature babies are more likely to have undescended testicles because they can be born before the testicles have descended. We also know that there are some factors that increase the chances of undescended testicles.
Risk factors for undescended testicles include:
- Family history of undescended testicles
- Drinking alcohol or smoking during pregnancy
- Conditions that can affect the baby’s growth, such as abdominal wall defects
- Low birth weight
In most cases, undescended testicles aren’t a sign of any underlying problem, but they may require treatment if they don’t drop by themselves.
When to See a Doctor?
It is a good idea to talk to your doctor if one or both of your baby’s testicles appear to be undescended, although the problem will usually be spotted during routine health checks. The doctor can confirm whether the testicle is present and undescended. Sometimes the testicle has simply retracted temporarily, and in other cases it could actually be missing altogether.
If your baby does have undescended testicles, then it is usually best to wait and see if the problem resolves itself. Your baby won’t be in any pain and undescended testicles won’t usually cause any problems at this stage.
In many cases, the testicles will descend by the time your baby is six months old. However, about 1 in 100 boys will have undescended testicles that don’t drop by themselves. Surgery will usually be recommended at this point in order to avoid fertility problems and other complications. It is best to have the procedure before your baby is 12 months old in order to ensure the risk of complications remains as low as possible.