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What your penis can tell you about your health

Your penis (if you have one, of course) can be a barometer for health problems.

Couple talking

Just as high blood pressure can be a sign of cardiovascular disease, your penis (if you have one, of course) can be a barometer for health problems. The way your penis functions, its appearance, and any abnormal penile fluid or discharge can all point to health issues.

What the way your penis functions can reveal

The penis has two main functions: to urinate and to ejaculate.  Problems urinating, such as difficulty starting or a weak flow of urine, can be a sign of an enlarged prostate. This is common in older men. It is referred to as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) and is usually not related to cancer. Other signs of BPH include dripping after urinating, feeling like the bladder has not completely emptied, frequent urination and possibly blood in the urine from straining to urinate.

The same signs and symptoms of BPH are also common in the late stages of prostate cancer. There are no clear early signs of prostate cancer, but a physician can perform a rectal exam or request a blood test for PSA (prostatic specific antigen), both of which can identify cancer at an earlier stage.

Pain while urinating can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (most notably chlamydia and gonorrhea), a urinary tract infection, or prostate problems.

Problems related to ejaculation are usually a result of difficulty achieving or sustaining an erection. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can point to a variety of health issues. These include:

  • Diabetes. ED occurs 10-15 years earlier in men who have diabetes.
  • High blood pressure. Men who have high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension) have higher rates of ED. Hypertension medications can cause ED.
  • Problems with alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and negatively affects the ability to achieve and sustain an erection. There is no evidence to suggest that responsible drinking (2 drinks or fewer per day) is associated with ED.
  • Nerve or spinal damage. A healthy nervous system is needed to achieve an erection.
  • Obesity. Overweight and obesity contribute to health problems (e.g. diabetes) that interfere with the ability to have an erection.
  • High cholesterol. Elevated cholesterol contributes to artery damage, which can interfere with erections.
  • Tobacco use. Using tobacco contributes to heart disease, stroke, constriction of blood vessels and an increase in cholesterol, all of which can interfere with the ability to achieve a satisfactory erection.
  • Stress. In times of stress, hormones are released that negatively affect libido as well as the ability to achieve an erection.
  • Mental health issues. Anxiety, guilt, depression, low self-esteem and fear of sexual failure are linked with erectile difficulties.
  • Sleep problems. Experts believe that during sleep spontaneous erections occur that keep the “pump” mechanism of the penis “primed” and functioning properly. Lack of sleep can interfere with this. Also, lack of sleep contributes to low levels of energy and a decrease in the ability to concentrate, which can interfere with the desire for sex and a satisfactory erection.
  • Illicit drug use. Regular use and abuse of illicit drugs — such as cocaine, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates and ecstasy — can negatively affect the ability to have an erection.
  • Low testosterone. Testosterone is a hormone that affects libido and the achievement of an erection.

Some prescription and over-the counter medications can cause erectile dysfunction.

 

What your penis’ appearance can reveal

A visual look at your penis can help identify potential health problems. Signs of a few sexually transmitted infections (STI) are visible on the penis. However, these signs are often mild or not noticeable to the naked eye.

  • The main sign of genital herpes is fluid-filled blisters, which are often found on the shaft of the penis. There can be one blister or many.
  • The main sign of genital warts (caused by the Human Papilloma Virus) is small, raised bumps that have a cauliflower-like appearance. They, too, can appear alone or in clusters.
  • The main sign of the primary phase of syphilis is a painless, red sore called a chancre.

Penile cancer can also be noticed by looking at your penis. A change in skin colour, a thickening of the skin or the development of a sore can all be signs of this rare cancer.

A change in the curvature of the erect penis is a sign of Peyronie’s disease, which is caused by scarring of the tissues in the penis. The curvature can become so pronounced that it interferes with sexual function. Most cases of Peyronie’s are mild and often resolve without treatment.

What the fluids that come from your penis can reveal

Abnormal discharge from the penis or an abnormal colour of urine can point to several health problems.

The main sign of chlamydia or gonorrhea is pus from the penis. This is usually more pronounced in the morning. In chlamydia the pus tends to be watery and white. Up to 50% of infected men can have no notable symptoms. In gonorrhea the pus tends to be thicker and can be greenish or yellowish.

Blood tinged urine can be a sign of kidney or bladder disease, including cancer. It can also be a sign of prostate disease, a urinary tract infection, a sexually transmitted infection or a variety of other causes. Any blood in the urine should be reported to a physician.

Cloudy urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection. Dark (concentrated) urine is a sign of dehydration. Some foods can affect the colour of urine. Beets can give a reddish tinge; asparagus can make it green. A high intake of vitamin B12 can lead to “fluorescent” yellow urine. Medications can also affect the colour of urine.

Keeping your penis healthy

It isn’t surprising that the recommendations to keep your penis healthy and functioning at its best are the exact same recommendations for healthy living. They include:





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