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A hydrocele (say "HY-druh-seel") is a buildup of
watery fluid around one or both
testicles. It causes the
groin area to swell.
hydrocele is one that a baby is born with. Hydroceles can also occur later in
life for a number of reasons. This topic is about congenital hydroceles, which
are common in male newborns.
The swelling from a hydrocele may look scary,
but it is usually not a problem. It will probably go away by the time your baby
is 2 years old.
A month or so
before birth, a baby's testicles move from the belly area down into the
scrotum, along with a bit of the lining of the belly area. The lining shrivels
up, leaving a small empty space around the testicles. This space normally
closes up by the time a baby is 2 years old.
leaks into the space, filling it like a small water balloon. This is a
hydrocele. When the space closes up and traps the
fluid inside, it's called a noncommunicating hydrocele. Usually, the body
absorbs the fluid over time.
If the space doesn't close up the way
it should, the fluid moves back and forth between the scrotum and the belly
area. This is called a communicating hydrocele. The swelling comes and goes.
This problem is usually fixed with surgery to help prevent a
hernia in the groin.
Another type of
hydrocele is a hydrocele of the
spermatic cord. It is located higher up in the
scrotum. The fluid is usually absorbed within a few months and at the latest by
age 1 or 2. A hydrocele of the cord may be mistaken for an
The usual symptom is a
swollen scrotum. The swelling does not hurt. If your child seems to be in pain,
call the doctor. Pain may mean that your child has a hernia or other
diagnose a congenital hydrocele during a physical exam that includes questions
about the child's health. The swelling is often easy to see, so the hydrocele is typically
not hard to identify. But the doctor will want to rule out other conditions.
Most of the time, all you need
to do is watch for changes in the swelling. If the swelling gets bigger or
if it comes and goes, tell your doctor.
Your child may need
surgery to remove the fluid if:
If surgery is needed, the doctor or nurse will give your child medicine to make him or her sleep. A small cut (incision) will be made in the groin area. At the end of the surgery, the cut will be stitched up. The doctor may ask you if you want him or her to check the opposite groin area for a hydrocele or other problem during the same
surgery. After surgery, you'll need to care for the groin incision and watch for signs of infection.
Learning about congenital hydrocele:
When surgery is needed for congenital hydrocele:
This American Academy of Pediatrics website has information for parents about childhood issues, from before the child is born to young adulthood. You'll find information on child growth and development, immunizations, safety, health issues, behavior, and much more.
Other Works Consulted
Elder JS (2011). Disorders and anomalies of the scrotal contents. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 1858–1864. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Koski ME, et al. (2010). Infant communicating hydroceles—Do they need immediate repair or might some clinically resolve? Journal of Pediatric Surgery, 45(3): 590–593.
Zderic SA, Lambert SM (2010). Developmental abnormalities of the genitourinary system. In CA Gleason, SU Devaskar, eds., Avery's Diseases of the Newborn, 9th ed., pp. 1191–1204. Philadelphia: Saunders.
December 28, 2012
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Peter Anderson, MD, FRCS(C) - Pediatric Urology
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