It’s not a condition guys like to have( ouch! It can be terribly painful!) or even acknowledge. But epididymitis, known by the casual term ” Blue Balls”, isn’t something to joke about — or ignore. If you don’t recognize and have the condition treated, you could end up sterile. It could also be a warning you have a sexually transmitted disease that needs treating. So get the facts, understand the warning signs and make sure you know what to do to prevent — and get help for — this “men’s only” disorder.
You may have heard of the men’s condition, epididymitis, called by its “street name” — Blue Balls . It got that moniker because the condition can restrict blood flow to your testicles and the area where blood pools can take on a blue tinge. But you do not literally have to experience “ blue balls” in order to have epididymitis.
So what causes exactly is epididymitis and why should you care?
First, let’s start with a description. An epididymis is an elongated tube-like structure located at the side of each of your testicles that functions as a kind of “holding pen” where sperm mature. Then, during ejaculation, sperm are transported through each epididymis along the spermatic cord. If an epididymis becomes inflamed or infected, then you can end up with the condition called epididymitis . If the disorder lasts more than six weeks, it’s called chronic epididymitis. Acute epididymitis usually is marked by more swelling and pain than the chronic form .
How do you know if you have epididymitis? The first signs are often a sensation of heaviness in a testicle. You will also likely have chills and a low-grade fever. Over a few hours or days, the affected testicle can become very sensitive to pressure, too.
Here are some other symptoms of epididymitis:
- Pain in the scrotum – mild to excruciating.
- A swollen and tender testicle, often aggravated by bowel movements.
- There may be a distinct lump in a testicle.
- Rarely, an infection can cause an abscess to form.
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen and pelvis.
- Pain or a burning sensation when you urinate.
- Painful intercourse or pain when you ejaculate.
- Bloody semen.
- Enlarged lymph glands in your groin.
Who’s at risk for epididymitis? In years past, doctors thought epididymitis was caused, at least partially, by activities such as heavy lifting that involve straining. Now it is understood that the most common cause of epididymitis is infection – most often, by the same bacteria that commonly cause urinary tract infections.
There are some other health problems that can increase your risk of having the condition , including being a diabetic, having multiple sexual partners, not using condoms, having sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and chlamydia and having recent trauma to your groin area ( such as surgery or a blow from an accident).
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you have any signs or symptoms of epididymitis, see your family physician or urologist right away. That’s important because delaying treatment can allow an infection to spread to your testis, resulting in infertility. The diagnosis of epididymitis is made based on the results of a physical exam, blood chemistry tests and urinalysis. A scrotal ultrasound may also be performed to rule out other more serious conditions such as testicular cancer.
Fortunately, once you are diagnosed, you can get therapy to clear up the condition. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and bed rest are usually prescribed. It’s also important to inform your sexual partners if you are found to have an STD, so they can be treated.
With treatment, the pain caused by acute epididymitis usually is gone in about a week . Be aware, however, that swelling may persist for a month or longer. Although it’s usually less painful than the acute form of the disorder, symptoms of chronic epididymitis can persist despite an initial round of medications and be more difficult to treat . Several rounds of antibiotics may be needed and sometimes anti-inflammatory medication must be taken for months on end. Rarely, if chronic epididymitis does not respond to therapy, surgical treatment is a last resort to relieve pain and swelling..
Always complete your entire course of antibiotics, even if you feel fine after a few days . Stopping your meds too early can allow the infection to come back even stronger than before. Another important point to remember: put off resuming sexual intercourse until your infection is gone.
Always schedule a follow-up appointment with your physician following treatment for acute or chronic epididymitis to make sure any infection has completely resolved . In fact, it’s a good idea to return to your health care provider for regular check-ups and at any times you notice symptoms of epididymitis – because, unfortunately, after an initial episode, recurrence is fairly common
The bottom line: the best way to fight epididymitis is to prevent the infections that cause it. And practicing safer sex and pursuing monogamous relationships is one of the best ways to do that.