Scrotal pain is one of the most common urologic emergencies seen in boys. Although many causes of scrotal pain may not require an immediate organ-preserving procedure, some causes can lead to rapid and permanent loss of testicular function without timely intervention. Thus, the clinician must identify patients who need emergent diagnostic and/or therapeutic procedures and those who need observation and reassurance.
Consider testicular torsion in males with acute scrotal pain, because torsion is a urologic emergency. The estimated incidence of torsion in U.S. males younger than 18 years is 3.8 per 100,000 children.1 Testicular torsion has a bimodal age presentation, with one peak in the immediate neonatal period and another peak during early puberty. Because the testicle of neonates with prenatal torsion is not salvageable, many urologists agree that neonates can be taken to the operating room on a semi-elective basis when the infant is a few months of age to decrease the anesthesia risk. However, in perinatal torsion, the contralateral side may also be torsed, even without abnormal physical examination findings or an abnormal US.2
Most boys with testicular torsion present between 12 and 18 years of age. Classically, the pain is abrupt in onset and severe and is usually associated with nausea or vomiting. The testicle is extremely painful, and often the patient will walk with a wide-based gait to minimize the contact of the scrotum to the thigh. There may be a preceding history of a sports activity or even minor trauma to the area, which may lead the clinician to a misdiagnosis of traumatic injury. In some cases, the patient may recall episodes of previous scrotal pain that rapidly resolved without intervention, which may represent intermittent torsion with spontaneous detorsion. Episodes of intermittent torsion may predispose a patient to acute complete testicular torsion.3
Classic physical examination findings of acute testicular torsion include a swollen, tender, high-riding testis, with an abnormal transverse lie. There are often scrotal skin changes. Ipsilateral loss of the cremaster reflex is almost always noted but is not 100% sensitive, especially in young boys.4,5
Doppler US is the diagnostic imaging study of choice,6 with radionuclide imaging a distant second. If the time to obtain diagnostic imaging may lead to delay of surgical intervention, advocate for emergent surgical exploration by a urologist, rather than waiting for an imaging study to be completed. Time is especially critical if the duration of symptoms is <6 hours, as the salvage rate is excellent in such cases. Beyond 6 hours, the salvage rate becomes progressively worse, and after 48 hours of symptoms, the salvage rate is near zero. Patients presenting with equivocal signs of torsion or who have had pain for >6 hours may benefit from a Doppler US, which can visualize blood flow to the testis. In acute torsion, Doppler demonstrates an enlarged testis ...