A relatively common disease in over-50s men, Peyronie’s can cause your erection to bend and shorten, making sex painful or difficult. Find out the causes, symptoms and treatments here.
What is Peyronie's disease?
Peyronie's disease is a result of build-up of plaque (consisting of collagen) of the penis, which can occur over a long period of time. Usually, this phase (called the acute phase) lasts for 18-24 months and the plaque build-up, which can often be felt when you squeeze or palpate your penis, begins to cause the penis to bend. This is because the lump, or plaque, can reduce flexibility in your penis.
You may also experience pain during an erection and the plaque can also affect your erection making it more difficult – it’s thought this is due to blood flow being impeded by the plaque. While the pain usually dissipates over time, your penis may still bend in a way it did not before, to one side, for example, and you’ll still be able to feel the area where the plaque has formed. The curvature of the penis can make sex difficult and even impossible.
Find out how Peyronie's disease can affect your relationship
Causes of Peyronie’s disease
Peyronie’s can’t be transmitted from one person to another nor is it the result of an infection or bacteria of any kind, in fact it’s thought that it could be the result of previous injuries (during sex or otherwise). It's possible that Peyronie's disease might run in families, although this isn't certain.
It’s most common in men aged over 50, with 29% diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 54, and 31% between the ages of 54 and 64, so age is a factor, but the reality is that no one knows the exact cause of the disease.
Other risk factors include vitamin E deficiency and certain medications such as beta-blockers have also been linked to the disease, often listing the disease as a possible side-effect. If you are concerned about medication you are taking, see your GP before you stop taking anything s/he has prescribed as it could be a risk to your health.
Peyronie’s is associated with a number of underlying problems including diabetes, high cholesterol levels, raised blood pressure and Dupuytren's contracture, (scarring in the palm of the hand that curls the little finger in), but the exact cause remains unclear.
Cross section illustration of a curved penis with Peyronie's disease
Treatment for Peyronie’s disease
For one in ten lucky men the inflammation reduces without any treatment but most men with Peyronie's disease will need to see a urologist who can then assess the potential for treatment.
Getting seen early on (within six months of the onset of a symptom) can make a huge difference in how effective treatment is.
A medical professional will be able to check for the plaque build-up without you having to have an erection but to assess the curvature they will need to see your penis erect. This can be done via a special solution that is injected causing the blood vessels to dilate.
There are treatments for Peyronie’s but unfortunately as knowledge of the condition is so minimal, many people may not be aware of them, including medical professionals. “The medical profession needs to improve the care it gives to those with Peyronie’s disease,” says consultant urologist David Ralph. “Too many doctors are not educated about the disease and the treatments that can be used. We have a variety of options available to us from oral drugs, to injections and as a last resort, surgery. I would like to see each patient be referred to an expert in the field and try a range of treatment options.”
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Vitamin E has shown some benefit in reducing the size of plaques but further research is needed. However, supplements are inexpensive and so this is definitely worth trying.
Manipulating or stretching the penis for several hours a day has been shown to have some benefit if undertaken for six months or more. There are various ways of doing this, including massage and using special devices.
Corticosteroid injections can be applied directly to the plaque area to help break it up, and other medications such as Verapamil and collagenase have been approved for use in the USA, but are not common in the UK.
This is a treatment offered by private clinics in the UK, usually used to treat cancer. In the same way as it is used to target a cancerous growth, it can also be used to target the plaque in the penis.
This will only be considered after non-surgical treatments have been attempted over one to two years and if the symptoms are severe. A urologist will check to see if your plaque is ‘stable’ as in it is unlikely to worsen and then you will be assessed as to whether your condition is debilitating enough to warrant surgery. Be aware, too, that like all penile surgery the treatment itself could damage erectile nerves and therefore affect your ability to have sex.
For more information visit dupuytrens-society.org.uk/information/peyronies-disease