What It Is
A scrotal ultrasound is a safe and painless test that uses sound waves to make images of the scrotum (the pouch of skin at the base of the penis that contains the testicles).
During the examination, an ultrasound machine sends sound waves into the scrotum and images are recorded on a computer. The black-and-white images show the internal structures of the scrotum, such as the testicles, the epididymis (the tube that collects sperm made by a testicle), and the spermatic cord (the tube that connects a testicle to the inside of the body).
Why It's Done
Doctors order a scrotal ultrasound when they're concerned about symptoms such as scrotal pain or swelling.
A scrotal ultrasound can show:
- the size of the testicles
- signs of injury to the testicles
- abnormally swollen veins in the scrotum (varicocele)
- fluid collection around the testicle (hydrocele)
- twisting of the testicle, which cuts off its blood supply (testicular torsion)
- infection or inflammation in the epididymis (epidydimitis) or in the testicle (orchitis)
- a cyst or tumor in the scrotum
- an absent or undescended testicle
Usually, no special preparation is needed for a scrotal ultrasound. You should tell the technician about any medications your son is taking before the test begins.
The scrotal ultrasound will be done in the radiology department of a hospital or in a radiology center. Parents are usually able to accompany their child to provide reassurance.
Your son will be asked to change into a cloth gown and lie on a table. The room is usually dark so the images can be seen clearly on the computer screen. A technician (sonographer) trained in ultrasound imaging will spread a clear, warm gel on the skin of the scrotum, which helps with the transmission of the sound waves.
The technician will then gently move a small wand (transducer) over the gel. The transducer emits high-frequency sound waves and a computer measures how they bounce back from the body. The computer changes those sound waves into images to be analyzed.
Sometimes, the doctor will come in at the end of the test to meet your son and take a few more pictures. The procedure usually takes less than 30 minutes.
What to Expect
The scrotal ultrasound is painless. However, if the area is tender, the light pressure applied to move the transducer over the scrotum might be uncomfortable. Ask your son to lie still during the procedure so the sound waves can produce the proper images.
Babies might cry in the ultrasound room, especially if they're restrained, but this won't interfere with the procedure.
Getting the Results
A radiologist (a doctor who's specially trained in reading and interpreting X-ray, ultrasound, and other imaging studies) will interpret the ultrasound results and then give the information to the doctor, who will review them with you. If the test results appear abnormal, the doctor may order further tests.
In an emergency, the results of an ultrasound can be available quickly. Otherwise, they're usually ready in 1-2 days. In most cases, results can't be given directly to the patient or family at the time of the test.
No risks are associated with a scrotal ultrasound. Unlike X-rays, radiation isn't involved with this test.
Helping Your Child
Some younger kids may be afraid of the machinery used for the ultrasound. Explaining in simple terms how the scrotal ultrasound will be conducted and why it's being done can help ease any fear. You can tell your son that the equipment takes pictures of his scrotum and testicles.
Encourage your son to ask the technician questions and to try to relax during the procedure, as tense muscles can make it more difficult to get accurate results.
If You Have Questions
If you have questions about the scrotal ultrasound, speak with your doctor. You can also talk to the technician before the exam.
- A to Z: Hydrocele
- A to Z: Varicocele (Scrotal Varices)
- A to Z: Scrotal Pain, Acute
- A to Z: Cryptorchidism
- Undescended Testicles
- Male Reproductive System
- Testicular Torsion
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995- KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.