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.
What Causes Testicular Torsion?
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.
What Are the Symptoms of Testicular Torsion?
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. Other symptoms include:
swelling, especially on one side of the scrotum
nausea and vomiting
one testicle appears to be higher than the other
What Should I Do?
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. He or she can check you out and take steps to make testicular torsion unlikely
in the future.
Get Help Right Away
Talking to someone about your private parts might seem a little embarrassing. It's
really important, though, to tell a parent or contact a doctor if you have pain in
your scrotum. 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.
Even if a pain in your scrotum goes away on its own, you still need to tell a parent
or doctor. A torsion that goes away makes you more likely to have another
torsion in the future. Doctors can greatly reduce your risk of another torsion
by doing a simple surgical procedure that secures your testicles to your scrotum.
How Is Testicular Torsion Diagnosed?
When you arrive at the hospital or doctor's office and describe your condition,
the staff and doctors will assume you have a testicular torsion, even if the pain
turns out to be something different.
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.
Sometimes, doctors will need to do surgery to be sure a problem is testicular torsion.
A doctor may also perform immediate surgery without any other testing in order to
save the testicle. This is more likely if the torsion has been going on for a while
or if the doctor suspects a guy has a torsion after examining him.
How Is Testicular Torsion 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
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
What Happens After Surgery?
Guys need to skip strenuous activities (like sports) and sex or sexual stimulation
(like masturbation) for a few weeks after testicular torsion surgery. Talk to your
doctor about when it will be safe to go back to your normal activities.
Guys who have a testicle removed might be able to get a prosthetic, or artificial,
testicle a few months after the surgery. Most guys will still be able to father children
later in life with one working testicle, but it can help some guys to feel more confident
about their appearance if they have a prosthetic testicle.
If you've had a testicle removed, don't despair. It's not the end of the world.
Chances are you'll still be able to father children and lead a perfectly normal life.
In fact, if you do lose a testicle, nobody but you, your family, and the doctor ever
need to know about it.