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What is a hydrocele?

A hydrocele is a build-up of fluid in the scrotum, the sac that holds the testicle. This build-up of fluid is fairly common in male newborns.

What is the cause?

Before birth, the testicles develop in the abdomen, then come down into the scrotum through a tube called the process vaginalis. Fluid also comes down this tube. Most of the time this tube closes by itself, and the fluid around the testicle gets absorbed and goes away.

If the tube does not close properly, fluid can continue to drain into the scrotum. This is called a communicating” hydrocele. The reason that the tube does not close is not known.

What are the symptoms?

Your child's scrotum may look larger on one side or may appear very swollen. Hydroceles usually are not painful. Communicating hydroceles may change in size as the fluid comes and goes in and out of the scrotum.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's medical history and symptoms. The provider will examine your child.

How is it treated?

Usually the fluid will be absorbed by the body during the first few months of life.

Surgery may be needed if:

  • your baby is older than 1 year and still has a hydrocele
  • your baby has a communicating hydrocele
  • your baby has an inguinal hernia (intestinal contents come down the same open tube)

The surgery to fix a hydrocele is a relatively minor procedure that is done in day surgery. It takes about 1 and 1/2 hours.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Bring your child in for immediate care if:

  • Your child is having severe and constant scrotal swelling and pain.

Call during office hours if:

  • Your son is complaining of minor scrotal discomfort.
  • You have questions about the treatment of a hydrocele.
Developed for RelayHealth and edited by Robert Brayden, MD.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-09-08
Last reviewed: 2011-09-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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