Undescended testicles

What are they? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What are undescended testicles?

Undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) is one of the commonest conditions in newborns, affecting up to 5% baby boys.

Mostly, only one testicle fails to descend into the scrotum, but in around 20% of cases, both are affected. No one knows why the condition occurs.

Usually the testicles descend into the baby's scrotum during pregnancy and are in place by the eighth month, but in boys where this hasn't happened the problem usually resolves without any treatment within four months of the birth. If not, hormone therapy or corrective surgery will usually be recommended. This is because undescended testicles can lead to infertility, a higher risk of testicular cancer (although this is rare) and poor body image.

Undescended testicles fall into two categories: palpable, where they can be felt on examination of the abdomen, mostly just above the scrotum; and unpalpable, where they can't because they're further up in the abdomen, or are very small (atrophic) or absent altogether.

What are the symptoms of Testicles - undescended?

The scrotum appears empty on one or both sides or one or both testicles can't be felt in the scrotum on examination after birth.

Diagnosis is either by palpating (feeling) the abdomen, usually in a warm bath which makes the scrotal sac relax, or by laparoscopy, when a special camera is inserted into the abdomen through a small incision: this is known as keyhole surgery. If the problem is relatively easy to rectify, surgery will be performed at the same time as the laparoscopy.

What are the treatments and remedies of Testicles - undescended?

There are two types of treatment for undescended testicles. The first and most common is a surgical procedure called orchidopexy - usually performed after six months but before your child's second birthday - where the missing testicle or testicles are moved from their position in the abdomen and relocated into the scrotum. 

The second uses artificial hormones to trigger the testicles into descending, and these are given only if a blood test shows that a lack of hormones could have been the cause of the problem or if the testicles are palpable and close to the scrotum.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

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Further help

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  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net


Undescended testicles