A lot of crucial changes occur within the womb in the last few months of pregnancy. The eyes open, there is rapid weight gain, and the bone formation is completed.
It is also when the testicles in the boys descend from the lower belly into the scrotum which is a bag of skin situated below the penis.
But sometimes, one or both of the testicles fail to fall in the proper place which is referred to as an undescended testicle. It is common in babies that are born prematurely.
The testicles should ideally descend into the scrotum by the time the baby turns six months but if this does not happen the child will have to undergo surgery.
An undescended testicle is also known as cryptorchidism.
During the early phase of pregnancy, the testicles that are being formed within the womb are under the control of many hormones, and by 32-36 weeks, the testicles begin to move down into the scrotum.
In the majority of males born prematurely or some born as full-term infants, one or both of the testicles fail to descend at the right time which is ideally at birth.
Out of these, most of them descend in the following three to six months of age. By six months, this problem persists in less than 1% of babies.
The scrotum appears smaller on the affected side.
In rare cases, the undescended testicle can become twisted leading to testicular torsion that causes extreme pain in the groin. This requires immediate medical attention.
The causes are debatable. Some say it is attributed to genes, the mother's health, and outside factors, some blame the hormones and nerves at play.
Certain factors that contribute to developing this condition include:
Prematurely born or low birth weight infants are likely to develop it.
Family history of developmental problems
Medical syndromes that are associated with this condition like Down syndrome affecting the growth of the fetus within the womb
Contact of the mother with certain chemicals / industrial pesticides during pregnancy
If the mother has diabetes (type 1, type 2, or gestational), is overweight, has drunk alcohol, or smoked cigarettes during pregnancy.
The sperm produced needs a cool environment as compared to the rest of the body and if the testicles fail to descend, the sperm produced is likely to be lodged in the groin area especially if both the testicles are undescended.
Hernia formations: bulging of intestinal tissues through the muscles of the lower abdomen.
Injury: the testicles that are in unusual positions are likely to get injured.
Cancer: Children with an undescended testicle are a little more likely to get testicular cancer.
Testicular torsion: The cords carrying semen to the penis get entangled with each other leading to obstruction of blood flow to the testicles.
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