Harvard Men's Health Watch

Epididymitis

Q. I am a 73-year-old man and I've been diagnosed with epididymitis, which has been quite painful — to say the least. I would appreciate your comments about the cause, cure, and any other implications of having this problem.

A. Despite its unfamiliar name, epididymitis is a common problem that is responsible for more than 60,000 visits to American emergency rooms each year. As the "itis" in its name indicates, it's an inflammatory disease, in this case involving the epididymis, a long, narrow tube that is tightly coiled at the upper rear of the testicle. In health, the epididymis transports sperm from the testicle to the vas deferens, a muscular tube that allows sperm to mature as they travel on to the seminal vesicles, which are near the prostate.

Bacteria are responsible for epididymitis. The infection starts in the urine or prostate, then spreads back up into the epididymis. Although sexually active men in their 20s and 30s are most often afflicted, epididymitis can occur in the absence of sexual activity and can strike men right through their 80s.

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