Your penis serves some big roles in your body. Of course, it houses a drainage system that allows your body to get rid of urine. It’s also a key player in the reproductive process and the act of making whoopie.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
But did you know your penis also offers a window to your health? It turns out the performance or appearance of your penis can provide clues about what’s happening to you physically and mentally.
So, what secrets can the appendage reveal? Let’s look at six potential learning opportunities with urologist Ryan Berglund, MD.
1. Heart health
Erectile dysfunction, or the inability to get or maintain an erection, isn’t an unusual occurrence. Your penis may just decide to not cooperate at times for a multitude of reasons, many of which are no big deal.
But if you consistently have trouble getting or keeping your penis up, it might signal heart disease and blood flow issues.
A 2018 study linked erectile dysfunction (ED) to increased risk of heart attack, cardiac arrest and stroke. Dr. Berglund notes that almost two-thirds of people who’ve also had heart attacks also experience ED.
“Erectile dysfunction, particularly if you’re younger, should be regarded as a warning sign for heart disease,” he adds.
Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection also may signal the onset of diabetes, which can damage the nerves, blood vessels and muscle function that work in tandem to get your penis up.
Research shows that someone with diabetes is three times more likely to report instances of ED. In addition, ED often occurs 10 to 15 years earlier and is more severe in those with diabetes.
3. Mental health issues
The mind plays a very large role in the function of the penis, says Dr. Berglund. Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety and stress can lower sex drive and keep your penis from performing as it should.
Relationship troubles can hinder operations below the belt, too. Ditto for alcohol, smoking and drug use.
4. Scar tissue
Having intercourse with a less-than-firm erection can damage your penis and lead to the development of Peyronie’s disease, a disorder in which scar tissue within the penis causes a curvature.
The condition can lead to a noticeable bend in your penis. A curve greater than 30 degrees is considered severe. The loss of length or girth is possible, too.
ED can cause more flaccid erections that increase your risk of Peyronie’s disease. Talking to a healthcare provider about difficulties getting a hard erection and getting treatment could reduce your chance of sustaining the injury.
Lumps and bumps aren’t unusual on a penis. Blood vessels, pimples and pearly penile papules (small, pearl-like bumps) are just a few of the things you might notice on your penis, shares Dr. Berglund. In most cases, they’re nothing to worry about.
But how can you tell if there’s something more serious going on?
If the bump is painful or there’s an open or weeping sore, get it checked out ASAP. It may be a sexually transmitted infection such as herpes or syphilis. Less pain but lots of itchiness could signal genital warts or molluscum contagiosum (a viral skin infection).
A discoloring of your penis along with painless lumps, crusty bumps or a rash could be a sign of penile cancer. Symptoms typically appear on the penis head or foreskin and should get checked by a medical professional.
The rate of penile cancer is relatively low in the United States, at 1 in 100,000. But it’s much more common in Africa, Asia and South America.
It’s important to pay attention to what’s happening downstairs. Changes in the performance or appearance of your penis may be a sign of a larger health issue.
Is the topic comfortable to talk about? Maybe not. But if something with your penis feels or looks different, tell a healthcare provider. It’s a discussion that’s important for your overall health.