Testicular Health and the Testicular Ultrasound Scan

The male reproductive system is composed of the penis and testicles, and the health of both is important for fertility. Sometimes if a couple are having trouble conceiving then investigations into the fertility of both partners as there is an even split in the distribution of male and female infertility. One of these investigations is into male testicular health, and involves an ultrasound of the testicles and surrounding structures.

What is the role of testicles in fertility?

Testicles, also known as testes, are the organs responsible for the production and storage of male reproductive substances. Sperm, the cells which are directly responsible for pregnancies as they fertilise female egg cells, and the fluid in which they are housed, seminal fluid, are both produced here, which is why the testicles are so important when it comes to male fertility.

Healthy, mobile, and plentiful sperm are needed for a successful fertilisation, but so is healthy seminal fluid. Sperm  have a relatively long distance to travel down the length of the female tract before they can get to and fertilise an egg, and seminal fluid is full of sugars and materials that sperm need to make that journey.

What testicular problems can cause male infertility?

There are a number of common testicular issues which can impact male fertility, and these include:

  1. Masses or lumps on the testicles are usually a cause for concern as they are essentially abnormal growths. It is recommended that men regularly examine their testicles for such growths, as they can often be indicative of a testicular cancer, which may or may not be harmful to both fertility and general health. Masses can also be caused by injuries to the testes, and some illnesses like epididymitis (an infection of the epididymis, part of the testicles). If you feel any kind of abnormal lumps on your scrotum you should consult your doctor straight away.
  2. Calcification (microlithiasis) is the accumulation of small deposits of calcium within the testicles. Calcification usually presents with pain and/or swelling, and the causes remain unknown. If you feel any of these symptoms you should always see your doctor who will be able to evaluate your condition and suggest either treatment or further testing.
  3. Varicoceles are also referred to as varicose seals, and are basically an unusual enlargement of a blood vessel responsible for carrying blood out of the testicles. This vessel is a vein, the type of blood vessel responsible for transporting blood back to your heart, and includes minute valves which ensure that blood flowing upwards keeps going in the right direction. Varicoceles are formed as a result of damage to these valves, causing veins around the testicles to expand and cause severe pain and shrinking of the affected testicle, and ultimately also impacting fertility.
  4. Spermatoceles are a very common cystic problem in male genitals. A cyst is just an abnormal sac which is self-contained and is full of liquid or air, and a spermatocele is just that, a cyst by an important structure within the testes called the epididymis. Fortunately most spermatoceles are painless and harmless, but the presence of a large and abnormal growth like this can potentially affect the normal function of testicles. Hydrocele testis is a condition where unwanted fluids build up around the testicle, which is usually enlarged as a result. Hydroceles can be caused by many factors, including a disruption of the lymphatic system (one of the body’s drainage systems).

Testing for these testicular issues

A common test for the testicular maladies, and for many others, is the testicular ultrasound is a safe way of getting a look at the structure and size of testicles. This allows a doctor to establish the health of your testes and what to do about any conditions affecting your fertility. The ultrasound scan is a safe one as it is non-invasive and doesn’t involve any radiation like X-rays do. They are also quick tests that can be performed without the need for any preparation or an overnight hospital stay.

In some places testicular ultrasounds are done routinely to ensure the general health of male reproductive organs. In the UK however these ultrasounds are generally performed if you report any pain, swelling, or masses in your scrotum, and can pick up on conditions that may be contributing to trouble conceiving.

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