Things That Can Go Wrong With the Male Reproductive System
Boys may sometimes experience reproductive system problems, including:
Disorders of the Scrotum, Testicles, or Epididymis
Conditions affecting the scrotal contents may involve the testicles, epididymis, or the scrotum itself.
- Testicular trauma. Even a mild injury to the testicles can cause severe pain, bruising, or swelling. Most testicular injuries occur when the testicles are struck, hit, kicked, or crushed, usually during sports or due to other trauma. Testicular torsion, when one of the testicles twists around, cutting off its blood supply, is also a problem that some teen males experience, although it's not common. Surgery is needed to untwist the cord and save the testicle.
- Varicocele. This is a varicose vein (an abnormally swollen vein) in the network of veins that run from the testicles. Varicoceles commonly develop while a boy is going through puberty. A varicocele is usually not harmful, although it can damage the testicle or decrease sperm production. Take your son to see his doctor if he is concerned about changes in his testicles.
- Testicular cancer. This is one of the most common cancers in men younger than 40. It occurs when cells in the testicle divide abnormally and form a tumor. Testicular cancer can spread to other parts of the body, but if it's detected early, the cure rate is excellent. Teen boys should be encouraged to learn to perform testicular self-examinations.
- Epididymitis is inflammation of the epididymis, the coiled tubes that connect the testes with the vas deferens. It is usually caused by an infection, such as the sexually transmitted disease chlamydia, and results in pain and swelling next to one of the testicles.
- Hydrocele. A hydrocele occurs when fluid collects in the membranes surrounding the testes. Hydroceles may cause swelling in the scrotum around the testicle but are generally painless. In some cases, surgery may be needed to correct the condition.
- Inguinal hernia. When a portion of the intestines pushes through an abnormal opening or weakening of the abdominal wall and into the groin or scrotum, it is known as an inguinal hernia. The hernia may look like a bulge or swelling in the groin area. It can be corrected with surgery.
Disorders of the Penis
Disorders affecting the penis include:
- Inflammation of the penis. Symptoms of penile inflammation include redness, itching, swelling, and pain. Balanitis occurs when the glans (the head of the penis) becomes inflamed. Posthitis is foreskin inflammation, which is usually due to a yeast or bacterial infection.
- Hypospadias. This is a disorder in which the urethra opens on the underside of the penis, not at the tip.
- Phimosis. This is a tightness of the foreskin of the penis and is common in newborns and young children. It usually resolves itself without treatment. If it interferes with urination, circumcision (removal of the foreskin) may be recommended.
- Paraphimosis. This may develop when a boy's uncircumcised penis is retracted but doesn't return to the unretracted position. As a result, blood flow to the head of the penis may be impaired, and your son may experience pain and swelling. A doctor may use lubricant to make a small incision so the foreskin can be pulled forward. If that doesn't work, circumcision may be recommended.
- Ambiguous genitalia. This occurs when a child is born with genitals that aren't clearly male or female. In most boys born with this disorder, the penis may be very small or nonexistent, but testicular tissue is present. In a small number of cases, the child may have both testicular and ovarian tissue.
- Micropenis. This is a disorder in which the penis, although normally formed, is well below the average size, as determined by standard measurements.
If your son has symptoms of a problem with his reproductive system or he has questions about growth and sexual development, talk with your doctor — many problems with the male reproductive system can be treated.