Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition in which a person with a penis has difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. It can cause problems in the bedroom for people of all ages. One rare form of ED, called Peyronie’s disease, results in a bend in the penis that can make an erection painful.
While a curved erection doesn’t always indicate a problem, people who have Peyronie’s disease may have trouble having sex. This often causes anxiety and discomfort. Keep reading to understand more about Peyronie’s disease.
Causes of Peyronie’s disease
According to the Mayo Clinic, the cause of Peyronie’s disease is largely unknown. However, research suggests that the condition may develop after trauma to the penis, such as bending or hitting. This can cause bleeding and subsequent scar tissue buildup.
While the injury may be the cause of the condition in some cases, the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Clearinghouse (NKUDC) notes that often the condition arises without a traumatic event.
Risk factors of Peyronie’s disease
Genetics and age appear to play a role in Peyronie’s disease. The condition can be genetic and run in families, giving some people a genetic predisposition.
Tissue changes lead to easier injury and slower healing as people get older. This puts them at greater risk for developing the condition.
Those with a connective tissue disorder called Dupuytren’s contracture have a higher chance of developing Peyronie’s disease. Dupuytren’s contracture is a thickening in the hand that makes your fingers pull inward.
Symptoms of Peyronie’s disease
The main symptom of Peyronie’s disease is the formation of flat scar tissue called plaque. This scar tissue can generally be felt through the skin. Plaque normally forms on the top side of the penis but may also occur on the bottom or side.
Sometimes plaque goes all the way around the penis, causing a “waisting” or “bottleneck” deformity. Plaque may gather calcium and become very hard. Scar tissue might cause painful erections, soft erections, or severe curvature.
Scar tissue on a certain part of the penis reduces elasticity in that area. Plaque on the top of the penis may cause it to bend upward during an erection. Plaque on the side may cause curvature toward that side. More than one plaque can cause complex curvatures.
Curvature may make sexual penetration more difficult. Scar tissue may cause shrinkage or shortening of the penis.
Tests and diagnosis
If you think you have Peyronie’s disease, the first step is to visit your primary doctor. A physical exam helps a doctor determine whether you have the condition. This exam may involve taking an initial measurement of your penis.
By measuring the penis, a doctor can identify the location and amount of scar tissue. This also helps determine whether your penis has shortened. A doctor may also suggest an ultrasound to reveal the presence of scar tissue, and they may refer you to a urologist.
Treatment for Peyronie’s disease
There’s no cure for Peyronie’s disease, but it’s treatable and may go away on its own. Though it may be tempting to request medication right away, many doctors prefer the “watchful waiting” approach if your symptoms aren’t severe.
A doctor may recommend medications — often drugs injected into the penis — or even surgery if you’re experiencing more pain or penis curvature over time.
Only one medication, clostridium hystolyticum (Xiaflex), is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the condition. It’s approved for use in people whose penis curves more than 30 degrees during erection.
The treatment involves a series of penile injections that break down the buildup of collagen.
Two other types of medicines that may be prescribed are:
- injectable verapamil, which is usually used to treat high blood pressure
- interferon injections, which help break down fibrous tissue
Nondrug treatments are being investigated, such as:
- shockwave therapy to break up scar tissue
- penile traction therapy to stretch the penis
- vacuum devices
People being treated with Xiaflex may benefit from gentle penile exercises. For 6 weeks after treatment, you should do two activities:
- Stretch the penis when not erect, three times daily for 30 seconds per stretch.
- Straighten the penis when experiencing a spontaneous erection unrelated to sexual activity for 30 seconds, once daily.
- Lifestyle changes
Lifestyle changes may reduce the risk of ED related to Peyronie’s disease. These include:
- quitting smoking
- reducing alcohol consumption
- stopping drug misuse
- exercising regularly
In addition to the anxiety or stress the condition may cause you — and perhaps your partner — other complications may arise. Difficulty achieving or keeping an erection makes it difficult to have sexual intercourse.
If intercourse isn’t possible, you may be unable to conceive a child. Seek support from a healthcare team, which may include a doctor, and a psychological counselor, to help you face these complex issues.
Talking to your partner
This type of anxiety may lead to problems with your sexual partner.
Take steps to nip stress in the bud. Talk to your partner about Peyronie’s disease and how it may affect your performance in bed. If necessary, enlist the support of a doctor or a therapist to help you manage.
Research is underway to help scientists better understand what causes Peyronie’s disease. Researchers hope their investigation into the process will lead them to effective therapy to help people with Peyronie’s disease.
In the meantime, do what you can to understand the condition and take the necessary steps to improve your quality of life — both in and outside of the bedroom.
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