When a normal testicle begins to shrink in size, the medical term used for such condition is called testicular atrophy. Testicles are external organ of male reproductive system. There are two testicles, situated in bag like structure called scrotum. Testicles have dual function, to produce sperms and secrete sex hormones.
Testicular atrophy can affect one or both the function depending on the severity and duration of atrophy. There are several reasons responsible for testicular atrophy, imbalance of hormones and use of certain drugs are the main reasons, besides old age etc. It is not only the anatomical changes of testes, but other symptoms such as ejaculatory difficulties may occur with testicular atrophy.
What Are The Causes Of Testicular Atrophy?
In a normal human being the two testes are round and firm. The testes are made up of two types of cells, the germ and Leydig cells. Adult sperms are produced from germ cells while leydig cells secrete male sex hormones testosterones. Both the cells contribute equally in growth and function of testes. When they are equal in amount the testes remain well developed and functions at its optimum.
However, atrophy of testes can hamper any one or both the functions. Atrophied testes can be easily determined by examination in most cases.They are organs are shrunken and become soft and loose when palpated.
There are several causes which may be responsible for atrophy of testes. Imbalance in hormones is one the major cause for testicular atrophy. Occasionally hormone imbalance can be caused by internal changes in the body or it can be from the external source such as side effects of medications or exposure to radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
Intake of certain drugs containing testosterone, estrogen or other sex hormones can affect the fabric of testes. It may result in shrinkage of testes. Especially use of anabolic steroids can lead to shrinkage of testes. Sports persons usually take these types of steroids to build up their muscles and strength. Long term usage of these steroids can harm the testes.
Testicular atrophy can also result from certain diseases such as mumps, gonorrhea, syphilis and various other sexually transmitted diseases. The cells of testes can get damaged due to infection. However, treating these conditions in time can save the testes from getting damaged.
An injury to testes or prostate cancer can cause testicular shrinkage. Testicular torsion can cut off blood supply to testes and the cells in the testes die resulting in its shrinkage and mal function.
Liver cirrhosis which usually occurs as a result of chronic alcoholism can damage the testes.
Aging is a natural factor for testicular atrophy. With growing age the testes shrinks in size, though with the help of medications normal sex life can be retained in such old people.
Testicular Atrophy Symptoms
Clinical manifestation of testicular atrophy depends on the time of its onset and severity.
- Prepubertal life: The androgen deficiency in prepubertal age results in delay or absence of secondary sexual characters like hair above the upper lip and chin. Pubic hairs are scanty. The penis remains small and testes are small, soft and often difficult to palpate.
- Adult life: Occurring in adult life, testicular atrophy may be associated with small and soft testes, decreased sexual drive, and decreased growth of facial and pubic hairs.
- Low sperm production or complete absence of sperms leads to infertility in males. The muscle mass and strength is reduced
Treatment For Testicular Atrophy
Treatment of testicular atrophy is usually focused upon detecting the underlying causes and addressing them instead of treating the shrunken testes. A detailed history includes past history of trauma, infections like mumps, filariasis, tuberculosis, STD’s, as also other systemic and metabolic diseases. Difficulty in sexual performance needs to be inquired.
Certain tests such as sonogram of testes and scrotum, blood hormonal essay and sperm count helps to identify atrophy of testes besides physical examination.
Testicular atrophy in majority of cases is irreversible however, if it detected in its early stage in certain condition, the further damage can be avoided with chances of its reversal. For example if alcoholism is suspected to be the reason, avoiding it completely will prevent further damage. Treating sexually transmitted disease on time will help to prevent damage to testes. Surgical correction of varicocele or testicular torsion will help to reverse testes atrophy if it is in its initial stage.
Doctors may also prescribe hormone replacement therapy if there is decrease in certain hormones.
Natural remedial measures include exercising, eating a well balanced diet and remaining sexually active.