This article will look at the uses of testicular ultrasound, what to expect during the procedure, and how to prepare for a scan.
What is a testicular ultrasound?
An ultrasound machine can provide images of the inside of the body, allowing doctors to diagnose certain conditions.
An ultrasound is a medical procedure that uses sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the body. The images can help a doctor to diagnose an illness or injury.
A testicular ultrasound, also called ultrasound imaging of the scrotum, looks specifically at the testicles.
The testicles are part of the male reproductive system. Their primary purpose is to create sperm and hormones. Testicles are contained within a sac called the scrotum.
The ultrasound procedure is safe, very low-risk, and non-invasive. The examination takes place entirely outside the body.
When is it used?
A testicular ultrasound is used to investigate a range of problems with the scrotum, testicles, or epididymis. A doctor may recommend a testicular ultrasound if a person has an injury, pain, or swelling in or around the testicles.
Specific uses for a testicular ultrasound include:
Testing testicular lumps
If a doctor suspects that a man has testicular cancer, a testicular ultrasound is one of the first tests that the doctor will perform. It is used to find out whether a lump found in the testicles is likely to be cancerous or not.
Ultrasound images can help a doctor to see the size and location of the lump. The images can also help the doctor identify whether the lump is filled with fluid, which is often harmless, or solid, which can be cancerous.
An ultrasound may help to diagnose testicular torsion, and to determine what treatment is required.
Testicular torsion is a serious, very painful condition that requires emergency medical attention. It occurs when the spermatic cord, which supplies blood to the testicle, becomes twisted.
If testicular torsion is not treated immediately, the blood supply can get cut off, causing the tissue of the testicle to die.
Often, surgery is required to prevent further damage to the testicle. A person should see their doctor immediately if they have severe testicle pain with no apparent cause.
Epididymitis is an inflammation of the epididymis, which is the tightly coiled tube behind the testicle that stores and transports sperm. Inflammation of the epididymis can cause fluid to build up around the testicle, resulting in a lump or a swelling.
Epididymitis is usually caused by an infection.
The testicles make and store sperm. Problems affecting the testicles can sometimes cause male infertility. Potential problems include infection, injury, previous surgery, or illness.
Undescended testicles are a common condition affecting young males.
During fetal development, the testicles should naturally move downwards from inside the abdomen to finally sit outside the body in the scrotum. This usually happens before birth, but can take up to 6 months after birth to occur.
If the testicles do not descend by the time a boy is 6 months old, it is crucial to consult a specialist. Sometimes, surgery may be required. The operation is typically straightforward and involves a surgeon moving the testicles down so that they sit in the correct position in the body.
Preparing for a testicular ultrasound
There is no need to avoid eating or drinking before the appointment.
Before the examination, a man will need to remove all clothing below the waist. A man may wish to wear something loose fitting and easy to take off.
Be prepared to stay as still as possible during the examination so that the ultrasound equipment can create clear images of the testicles.
What to expect
The ultrasound process will be explained before the procedure begins.
The examination will be carried out by a medical professional who specializes in testicular ultrasound. This can be a radiologist, urologist, or sonographer. Before they begin, they should explain what will happen during the examination.
The procedure usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes.
Before the examination, a person is asked to lie face up on a table. During the procedure, they may be required to move onto one side of their body.
A testicular ultrasound is performed outside the body. A small, hand-held machine called a transducer is used to take the images.
The doctor will apply a water-based gel to the scrotum to ensure that there is good contact between the skin and the transducer. The gel also allows the transducer to be moved smoothly over the skin to get clear images. The gel may feel cold on the skin, though sometimes it is warmed up beforehand.
The medical professional will move the transducer back and forth over the scrotum to take images of the testicles. The pressure from the transducer is usually light, but it may cause some discomfort if a person has an injury or swelling in the area.
When the examination is finished, the doctor will wipe the gel off the skin. Any gel that is left will dry quickly, and it will not usually stain clothing.
The ultrasound images are usually processed relatively quickly. Sometimes, a medical professional will be able to go through the results with a person immediately after their appointment.
If a doctor cannot discuss the results at the time of the ultrasound, make a follow-up appointment. A radiologist will check and interpret the results.
Some urologists may perform and interpret ultrasounds in their office. They may then send the results to a person's primary physician or healthcare provider.
Depending on the results, a doctor may recommend that a person has further medical tests.
Testicular ultrasounds are considered low-risk examinations. The examination may cause some discomfort or pain if there is an injury or swelling in the testicular area.
Some medical scans use radiation, but ultrasound does not. This makes it less risky than some other forms of scanning.
An ultrasound examination is a safe and effective way to create a picture of what is going on within the body.
A testicular ultrasound should provide a much clearer idea of the problem affecting the testicles. This will allow a doctor to recommend further treatment if required.