What Is Orchitis?
Orchitis is the inflammation of the testicles. It can be caused by either bacterial or viral infection.
Both testicles may be affected by orchitis at the same time. However, symptoms are restricted to just one testicle in most men.
Testicular inflammation of this kind is often associated with the mumps virus.
Orchitis Causes and Risk Factors
The most common cause of orchitis is the mumps. Mumps is a viral childhood disease that is rare in the United States due to effective immunization programs. The Mayo Clinic estimates that 33 percent of men who contract mumps as a teen also develop orchitis (Mayo Clinic). Viral orchitis related to mumps develops anywhere from four to 10 days after the salivary glands swell (a symptom of mumps).
Bacterial infection can also lead to orchitis in males. Urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and a related condition called epididymitis can result in orchitis, too. Epididymitis is the inflammation of the epididymis. This is the tube in which sperm is stored that connects the testicles with the vas deferens.
People who engage in high-risk sexual behavior may be more likely to develop orchitis. High-risk sexual behavior includes having:
- sexual intercourse without condoms
- a history of STIs
- a partner who has a sexually transmitted infection
Congenital urinary tract abnormalities can also increase your risk of orchitis. This means you are born with structural problems involving your bladder or urethra.
Symptoms and Signs of Orchitis
Pain in the testicles and groin is the primary symptom of orchitis. You may also experience:
- tenderness in the scrotum
- painful urination
- painful ejaculation
- swollen scrotum
- blood in the semen
- abnormal discharge
- enlarged prostate
- swollen lymph nodes in the groin
Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history and your symptoms. He or she will then give you a physical examination to determine the extent of the inflammation.
You may need a prostate examination to see if the orchitis has caused inflammation there. This involves your doctor inserting a finger into your rectum to physically examine the prostate.
Your doctor may require a urine sample and a swabbing of any discharge for lab analysis. This can determine if you have sexually transmitted or other infections.
Ultrasound imaging can rule out testicular torsion. Testicular torsion is another condition that causes extreme pain in the testicles and groin area, and the symptoms are often confused with those of orchitis. It is the twisting of the spermatic cord, a network of nerves and blood vessels that runs into each testicle. Testicular torsion can threaten fertility if blood flow to the testicles is interrupted.
With viral orchitis, you will have to allow the virus to run its course. In other words, there is no cure, but it will resolve itself with time. Pain relievers, ice packs, and elevation of the testicles when possible can make you more comfortable.
Bacterial orchitis is treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and cold packs. Regardless of the source of your inflammation, full recovery can take several weeks.
Abstain from sexual intercourse and heavy lifting while you treat orchitis. If you are infected with an STI, your partner will require treatment, too.
Most men suffering from orchitis recover completely with no lasting effects. Orchitis rarely causes infertility. Other complications are also rare, but can include:
- chronic inflammation of the epididymis
- abscess (blister) within the scrotum
- shrinking of the affected testicle
- death of testicular tissue
Some cases of orchitis cannot be prevented. This is especially true if you suffer from congenital urinary tract problems. You can, however, protect yourself against certain types of viral orchitis. Vaccinate yourself and your children against mumps to reduce your risk of contracting the orchitis.
Practicing safe sex can help prevent bacterial orchitis. Use a condom and ask your partner about their sexual history.