Grand Rounds

Man, 32, With Severe Scrotal Pain and Swelling

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  • Lab values for case patient
  • Differential diagnoses
  • Case outcome

A 32-year-old man presents to the urgent care center at a community hospital with severe scrotal pain and swelling of five days’ duration. What began as mild left scrotal discomfort is now causing increasing pain, swelling, hematuria, dysuria, low-grade fever, and nausea, prompting him to seek medical attention.

The patient, who is a pipefitter in a hospital, was at work when his symptoms began. He denies any history of scrotal trauma, and his review of systems is otherwise unremarkable. His medical history is significant for mild hypertension and morbid obesity, but he is not immunocompromised. Two months ago, he had an excision and repair of a left ureterocele, for which he was treated prophylactically with ciprofloxacin for one week. He has a 3–pack-year history of smoking and consumes three alcoholic beverages per week. He denies illicit drug use and has no report of sexually transmitted infection.

Upon arrival to urgent care, the patient appears to be in moderate distress, with a blood pressure (BP) of 111/79 mm Hg; pulse, 104 beats/min; respiratory rate, 18 breaths/min-1; temperature, 100.1°F; and SpO2, 94%. Physical exam reveals left scrotal erythema, severe tenderness upon palpation, marked scrotal edema, and a slight amount of foul-smelling discharge seeping from a pinpoint opening in the left perineum (see Figure 1a). Given his scrotal presentation, he is quickly transferred to a regional emergency department (ED) for a urology consult.

Presentation and Urgent Management of Case Patient image

In the ED, lab testing yields significant findings (see Table 1). His ECG demonstrates sinus tachycardia at 126 beats/min without rhythm or ST changes. His urinalysis reveals a cloudy appearance, a protein level of 100 mg/dL, and trace leukocyte esterase.

Patient Lab Values image

Urgent CT with contrast is obtained; it shows significant soft-tissue inflammatory changes in the left groin and scrotum that extend into the left thigh. In addition, a collection of fluid is seen in the inferior aspect of the left scrotal wall, indicating a probable abscess. There is no free air or lymphadenopathy.

Given the patient’s worsening condition and his apparent advancement to a systemic inflammatory response syndrome, surgical consult is obtained. He is diagnosed with a scrotal abscess and cellulitis; two blood and two scrotal cultures are obtained, and the patient is empirically started on IV ampicillin and gentamicin.

Two hours later, he has a BP of 122/74 mm Hg; pulse, 112 beats/min; respiratory rate, 20 breaths/min-1; and temperature, 103.1°F. His genital inflammation has advanced to the perineum and the left lower abdomen. The purulent, bloody, foul-smelling drainage from the opening in the left perineum is increasingly apparent. The patient is taken emergently to surgery for an incision and drainage, along with exploration of the scrotal abscess. During surgery, the patient is discovered to have Fournier’s gangrene.


Fournier’s gangrene (FG) is a necrotizing fasciitis of the perineal, perianal, and/or genital areas involving the superficial and deep fascial planes while sparing the deep muscular structures and overlying skin.1 A rare but potentially fatal disease, FG spreads at a rate of up to 3 cm/h.2,3

Mortality rates range from 7.5% to 88%, with the highest mortality occurring within the first 96 hours of hospitalization.1,4-7 Mortality is often related to the onset of sepsis.4,5 Survival requires early recognition; immediate, aggressive surgical debridement of all necrotic tissue; and concomitant, early administration of appropriate antibiotics.1,4,5,8 Mortality risk and prognosis are improved in patients younger than 60 with localized disease and no toxicity, along with sterile blood cultures.1

Risk Factors

FG is most commonly seen in males between the ages of 50 and 70, with a 10:1 male-to-female ratio.3,9 Impaired immunity typically increases a patient’s susceptibility to FG, with type 2 diabetes having the highest incidence (85% of patients).1,4,6,8,10 Other conditions that can increase the risk for FG include obesity, alcoholism, cirrhosis, cardiac disease, tobacco use, peripheral vascular disease, malignancy, chronic steroid use, renal insufficiency, IV drug abuse, and HIV.1,4,6,8,9,11

Trauma frequently initiates the infectious process,with urogenital trauma (eg, placement of urethral instrumentation, surgery, and urinary tract infection) being the main cause of bacterial introduction.1,3 Localized infection causes the development of an obliterative endarteritis, resulting in subcutaneous vascular ischemia, necrosis, and bacterial proliferation.3,7,9

Presentation and Diagnosis

Presenting symptoms of FG include intense, abrupt genital pain that is disproportionate to the physical exam findings.9 This rapidly escalates to include extreme swelling, erythema, bullae, discolored skin, and tissue crepitus with eventual necrosis.2,10 Lab results typically show leukocytosis > 18.0 × 109/L.4 The testicle and spermatic cord are generally unaffected (as in this patient), due to the anatomic relationship between the various layers of fascia within the scrotum and the anterior abdominal wall, as well as the independent blood supply of the compartmentalized testicular tissue.1-3

During an exam of the acute scrotum, the differential diagnosis includes cellulitis, scrotal abscess, acute epididymitis, and testicular torsion, with scrotal abscess being most frequently diagnosed (57% of patients).9,11,12 The distinguishing features of these diagnoses can be found in Table 2. Necrotizing fasciitis in the form of FG tends to be an unexpected, rare finding usually only diagnosed during the surgical draining of an abscess.12

Differential Diagnoses image

CT is the test of choice to detect FG and determine the extent of its spread by identifying subcutaneous air/gas within the involved fascial planes.10,13 However, an incisional biopsy with culture is needed to confirm the diagnosis.3,9 Most patients with FG require an average of four surgeries (eg, reconstruction, skin grafting, and possibly colostomy if the infection has entered the peritoneal cavity) in order to eradicate the disease and achieve the best functional and cosmetic outcome.4

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