“Your penis is a great barometer of overall health,” says Kevin Billups, M.D., an associate professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. That’s right: Your ding dong is also a bellwether for sickness. Heed its warning, and you just might avoid getting the shaft.
1. You’re going soft more than you care to admit
Limping into the bedroom more than twice a month may mean your heart’s just not in it: an Austrian study found that the risk of developing heart disease within 10 years was 65% higher in men with moderate or severe erectile dysfunction than in men without ED. “Blood vessels in the penis are significantly smaller and start to narrow long before those in the heart or brain,” says urologist Dr Darius Paduch. Talk to your doc, who can refer you to a cardiologist.
2. Your pee has gone from yellow to red
Pink bowl? Red flag. “Blood can be a sign of prostate, bladder or kidney disease, so you need to find out where the blood is coming from,” says Kevin Billups, M.D., an associate professor of urology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. On the other hand, bloody semen during sexual activity is less likely to signal deadly danger, says urologist Dr Eric Klein. Still, ask your doctor to check it out. You could have prostatitis, a gland inflammation that’s often caused by an E. coli infection. If that’s the case, it can be treated with antibiotics.
3. Your sex drive is stuck in neutral
Is the fire dying in bed? Could be OSA. Obstructive sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder in which your airway becomes blocked, might be reducing your sex drive. German researchers found that men with the lowest levels of night-time blood oxygen reported sexual desire levels 11% lower than men who breathed easily. OSA can reduce testosterone, affecting your erections. If you snore loudly, wake up gasping for air, or feel exhausted during the day, ask your doctor about OSA testing.
4. You see that the tip is red and swollen
No, not that type of swollen. We mean inflammation, redness and pain at the head of your willy. It’s called balanitis, and it’s typically caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, often as a result of less-than-stellar hygiene, Paduch says. You may need an over-the-counter antifungal, a prescription steroid cream or antibiotics. Then get checked for diabetes: research from Bristol-Myers Squibb shows that people with diabetes are nearly three times as likely as non-diabetics to develop balanitis.
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5. You notice it doesn’t feel as sensitive as before
A numb knob could be a sign of poor diet. Each day, make sure you consume at least 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12, from such sources as milk or beef, and 400 micrograms of folate, found in leafy greens. “A deficiency in these vitamins can prevent nerve fibres in your penis from carrying signals to your brain,” says Paduch. Next, have your blood sugar tested to rule out diabetes. Even a mildly high level – above 100 mg/dL after eight hours of fasting – can impact penile sensitivity, says Paduch.
6. You have to urinate more often than usual
The likely cause of your plumbing problem is benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, a condition that rarely causes symptoms before age 40 but affects up to 90% of men in their seventies and eighties. When your prostate is enlarged, it presses on the tube that carries urine out of your body, giving you that persistent gotta-go feeling. Your doctor may prescribe alpha-blockers, pills that help BPH (and sometimes high blood pressure) by relaxing the smooth muscles in your prostate.
7. You produce less ejaculate or can’t orgasm
Sputtering when you should be spurting? Low T could be the culprit. “Testosterone helps produce semen, and the more semen you have, the more force you ejaculate with,” Paduch says. The cause of your trouble may also be lurking in your medicine cabinet: about one-third of men who take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for depression experience difficulty reaching orgasm, according to researchers in Iran. Ask your doctor whether you should change the dose or switch meds.
8. Your erection is curving at a strange angle
You may be among the up to 23% of men aged 40 and up who get Peyronie’s disease, a condition that makes an erect penis bend at an angle of 30 degrees or more. It strikes when collagen plaques form on the connective tissue surrounding the spongy interior of the penis. The cause may be genetic or a sign of too much (or too little) sexual activity. Seek treatment within 24 hours, and consider a blood sugar test. High glucose levels alter stem cells in your penis, encouraging plaque to form.