Hydrocele: A Male Menace?

My husband has had multiple occurrences of a hydrocele. He has taken many courses of antibiotics, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Are there any herbal or vitamin remedies for a hydrocele?

– April 28, 2008

A hydrocele is a fluid-filled sac surrounding a testicle that makes itself known by causing swelling of the scrotum. About one in 10 baby boys is born with a hydrocele but most of them disappear without treatment within the first year of life. An estimated one percent of adult men, usually those over 40, develop hydroceles in response to injury or infection within the scrotum, or as a consequence of radiation therapy. Hydroceles usually aren’t painful or harmful, and need no treatment unless they get very big. If so, they can be surgically corrected. (Draining the fluid by needle is a temporary solution.)

I reviewed your question with Randy Horwitz, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. He stressed that the most important aspect of treating a presumed hydrocele is accurate diagnosis. The main concern is to make sure that the problem isn’t an incarcerated inguinal hernia, a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur when part of the intestine pushes through a weak spot in the inguinal canal (an opening between layers of abdominal muscle near the groin) and becomes trapped there. These cases require surgery. Another possible cause that is rare in the United States but common in less developed countries (and can occur among men who travel to these areas) is filiarisis (elephantiasis), an infection caused by a parasitic worm.

Dr. Horwitz says that in most cases patients just need reassurance that the condition is not harmful. Surgery may be indicated if the skin of the scrotum is irritated or weakened by chronic pressure or if the diagnosis is uncertain. Neither Dr. Horwitz nor I know of any natural remedies for hydrocele.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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