Why Kids Should Never Ignore Testicular Pain

Testicular pain in children can be extremely serious, a Children's Hospital of Michigan urologist says. Here's what parents need to know.

Certain symptoms make a parent’s alarm bells start ringing. One of them you might not have heard much about? Testicular pain.

Pain in a boy’s testicles can be a sign of a serious problem and one that kids should be taught to never ignore, says Dr. Kristina Suson, a pediatric urologist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Unfortunately, it’s also a problem that boys can feel uncomfortable talking about with their parents or a doctor.

“It is fairly common for us to see kids that have had testicular pain and either they’re embarrassed or the parents feel like, ‘Oh, it will probably get better,'” she says.

But the risk of testicular torsion is serious and prompt attention is critical. This condition, which can occur at any age, involves the testicle twisting on its own blood supply and cutting off blood to the testicle.

“It usually only happens on one side,” but bilateral torsion is also possible, Dr. Suson explains. In either case, surgical evaluation is necessary to correct the torsion and also fix the other testicle in place – since torsion on one side means the patient is predisposed to having it on the other.

Symptoms of testicular torsion include sudden pain in the testicle (usually “fairly dramatic” pain, she notes), vomiting or even abdominal pain.

“The little children, a lot of times, the parents don’t recognize a problem until the child is walking funny,” Dr. Suson says.

Time is of the essence when responding to torsion. If the pain from torsion goes on for hours, it may be too late to fix it. When that happens, the testicle can die and require removal.

“If it’s testicular torsion, when you get out of pain beyond six hours there’s a good chance the testicle is permanently damaged,” she explains. “I would say if they complain of the sudden onset of testicular pain and it’s going on for more than a few minutes, they should be evaluated. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be torsion – there are lots of other causes of testicular pain such as infections, inflammation, constipation – but that being said, because of what’s at stake with torsion, we recommend prompt evaluation.”

If you’re concerned about a potential torsion, take your child to the emergency room – ideally the ER of a children’s hospital, since needing to be transferred to access a pediatric urologist can take up precious time.

“That adds time and increases the risk of harm to the testicle,” she notes. “We say ‘time is testicle.’ That’s the catch phrase.”

While it’s not possible to predict who is at risk for torsion, parents can be proactive by making sure their kids are comfortable telling a parent about pain in any area of the body.

“Make sure your child knows that their urology health is just as important as any other part of their health,” Dr. Suson emphasizes. “And if it happens in school they should also find someone at school that they can talk to about it, be it their school nurse or that they need their parent called because they’re not feeling well.”

For more information on the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Emergency Department or to contact a pediatric urologist, visit childrensdmc.org.

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