Approximately 5% of boys are born with undescended testicles. This condition can lead to a variety of health conditions, among which is fertility.
What Are Undescended Testicles?
A child with undescended testicles has an empty scrotum on either one or both sides. Although the condition is painless, there may be health-related concerns in the future.
Between 25 and 35 weeks into a health pregnancy, a baby’s testicles will migrate into the lower abdomen, where they then settle into the scrotum. Premature babies have an elevated risk for one or both undescended testicles because there hasn’t been enough time for natural development.
Usually only one testicle cannot descend, but the condition can affect both. Even if only one testicle is impacted by this condition, there are still many risks involved if it is not treated properly in a relatively short period of time. According to the Indian Journal of Medical Research, an undescended testis is one of the most common anomalies found in pediatric urology.
What Causes an Undescended Testicle?
There is currently no known cause for an undescended testicle. Genetics and maternal health are thought to have a role in the condition as well as any environmental factors that may affect hormones during pregnancy. A few risk factors include premature birth, a family history and, Down syndrome.
How Does This Impact Fertility?
Testicles need to stay cooler than the rest of the body to produce healthy sperm. Since the scrotum normally develops far enough away from the body, this helps to regulate the temperature. One undescended testicle will experience a higher temperature, decreasing a man’s chance of being able to procreate. Issues surrounding fertility are twice as common as those with descended testicles.
Are There Other Issues Associated With Undescended Testicles?
The most obvious issue surrounding this condition is fertility, but other problems can arise as well. Low self-esteem and confidence can occur, especially as a teenager. There is also an increased risk for developing a hernia in those with diagnosed undescended testis. Testosterone deficiency is more likely for those who go untreated. Testicular cancer is one of the most dangerous possible conditions that can stem from an untreated undescended testicle. There is a greater risk for testicular cancer when both testicles are affected.
Usually this condition is diagnosed very early on. If the testicle has not descended within three months of age, this may be cause for concern. Although in many cases, this can be detected before two years of age, boys can develop this condition later in childhood also.
The best option for treatment is surgery. The ideal time for surgery is when the child is between six months of age and one year. After the boy is two years old, the future sperm quality is compromised. Although the option for surgery is available at a later time, the best outcome for healthy sperm is before two years of age.
Changes to the testicles happen very early in life. If the proper treatment is acquired, fertility issues can likely be avoided. Although it is best to have the surgery while still very young, surgery can still help those who suffer from undescended testis later on in life.