What is Penile Atrophy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Penile atrophy is a reduction in the size of the penis that may be the result of aging or disease. This particular organ naturally grows and shrinks in size, depending on situational factors like arousal and extreme cold. Atrophy, however, represents a long-term change in the size or shape of the penis, or of structures like the foreskin. A patient who notices such changes can discuss them with a urologist, who can perform an evaluation to learn more about the cause and provide some treatment recommendations.

Men over the age of 60 may experience penile atrophy.
Men over the age of 60 may experience penile atrophy.

As men age, shifting deposits of body fat may cause the penis to appear smaller, although this is not actually the case. Older men do eventually start to develop penile atrophy, usually after around age 60, as a result of reduced bloodflow to the organ. People with conditions like atherosclerosis are more likely to experience this, because plaques in the arteries obstruct the flow of blood and the tissues in the penis start to shrink as a result. Erections also tend to be smaller, because they rely on an ample supply of blood.

Aging and disease can cause the penis to atrophy, or become smaller.
Aging and disease can cause the penis to atrophy, or become smaller.

Another potential cause of atrophy of the penis is a drop in testosterone levels. This often occurs as part of systemic disease or in the course of treatment for a condition like prostate cancer. Men will also notice other symptoms, like shrinking testicles. An endocrinologist can run a blood test to see if testosterone levels are normal and determine if hormone therapy would be appropriate for the patient. Taking testosterone can expose people to the risk of side effects and they need to weigh the pros and cons before moving forward with therapy.

A drop in testosterone levels may lead to penile atrophy.
A drop in testosterone levels may lead to penile atrophy.

Connective tissue diseases involving the penis can also contribute to this condition. Patients may notice other symptoms, like a change in the curvature of the penis, difficulty getting and maintaining an erection, and changes in the texture or color of the skin. A medical professional should examine the patient and conduct an interview, and it may be necessary to run some tests to determine the origins of the disease and develop an effective treatment plan.

Chronic abuse of alcohol may cause a drop in testosterone levels and penile atrophy.
Chronic abuse of alcohol may cause a drop in testosterone levels and penile atrophy.

Penile atrophy can make men feel uncomfortable. Patients in treatment should make sure to discuss their concerns with a medical professional. Most healthcare professional understand that, while it may not be medically necessary to address changes in penis shape or size because they may not be dangerous, it may be beneficial for a patient's mental health to explore some options for correcting the problem. In cases where atrophy is accompanied by erectile dysfunction, treating it can make a significant difference in a patient's quality of life.

Treatment for prostate cancer may cause a drop in testosterone that leads to penile atrophy.
Treatment for prostate cancer may cause a drop in testosterone that leads to penile atrophy.
Atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries that can constrict blood flow, increases one's chances of penile atrophy.
Atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of the arteries that can constrict blood flow, increases one's chances of penile atrophy.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


What would cause a 'pinch-like' feeling in the upper shaft region of the penis, particularly during arousal? Is this a symptom of penile atrophy or urinary-tract cystitis? There is no discharge and tests confirm no STD infection.


Would a vacuum pump help with penis atrophy? If so what is a good model? Sex stores sell them--are they useful or should you consult a urologist and get a prescription for an expensive model? My sexual prowess was obliterated because of prostate cancer. Cryosurgery took care of the cancer but desimated my stellar sexual skill. Alas, my marvelous sex organ is now a simple water pipe. I'm 87.


My experience is similar to Pharoah's. I was diagnosed with aggressive but early stage prostate cancer back in 2013. The oncology team assigned to my case recommended a three-legged stool treatment approach consisting of radiation, chemo and hormone therapy because I didn't want the surgery option.

My wife and I sat with this team for an entire day listening to what they said we were in for and asking every question we could think of. Afterward I decided to look up the drugs they were using and that's when I first heard of testicular atrophy; it was a side effect of the Lupron hormone therapy drug. The article said that Lupron was developed for use as a chemical castration agent used on sexual predators and cattle!

I was outraged. They talked me into castrating my own self without any discussion of my 44-year marriage! They did tell me that my testosterone had to be shut off because it fed the tumor in my prostate, but nothing on what the estrogen they didn't shut off does to the male body that I should be ready for, like growing boobs, no erections or ejaculation.

And it wasn't until today that I find out that in addition to the possible loss of all testicle function, I'm also in the process of having my penis dissolve right before my eyes!! It's crushing as a prospect no doctor or anyone else has ever mentioned in my hearing! My head is still spinning in disbelief.

I did receive one clue that my penis was acting weird when the catheter urinal I wore during treatment just started falling off by itself, followed by not being able to get the darn thing on at all because my penis had, for unknown reasons, until now receded back into the foreskin.

I'm in a state of shock at the moment, but I am glad that there are some fellas around whom I can blow off some of this shock and awe to without being fitted for a strait jacket and tossed into a rubber room! Thanks for listening guys and I'd really appreciate any helpful comments or experiences any of you might care to offer! I feel like I'm flat up against the five stages of grief right now! Testicles and penis, possible casualties of war! How the mighty have fallen.


The healthier the penis, the less likely that things like atrophy or ED will occur. Most medical professionals recommend that guys use a penis health creme called Man1 Man Oil. This creme is loaded with vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that will keep this organ working properly and looking good well into the future. It's a very helpful product. Check it out.


I think our best hope in discovering how to prevent the telomerase that keeps our chromosomes bundled up from shortening and causing the chromosomes to reproduce less perfect copies of the cells kind of like a camera picture fades over time or gets wrinkled.

Another cure is perfecting stem cell infusion. Plus, they are developing in the lab penises so may we could get designer size and restored testes through the first two protocols I mentioned. Wake Forest University is doing the penis research. Oh, by the way, it is estimated two to five years for FDA on the shelf treatments for restoring telomerase, and in the process your body becomes younger, you are healthy and strong again and with the companion research, get a designer body. What is the definition of success? 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent work.


I have never been longer than 5 1/2 inches. I have fathered two children. I have been the same size as in all my 67 years. I am having trouble with morning erections. My wife is ill with RA and other diseases and had not allowed closeness in fifteen years. I feel the need to self care for the emptying of my prostate, not often, but it helps. I will not cheat on her.


I was diagnosed in my early 30s with a very low testosterone level, which may have been due to an accidental impact to my groin at age 15. At 16, I begin to notice the rapidly spreading hair up my stomach suddenly stopped and around 28 I began losing hair under my arms.

I didn't really become seriously bothered by my 5" penis, which also seems small in diameter, until my urologist put me on 5mg/ day of transdermal testosterone. My testicles also shrank by 70 percent or more, which contributes to my distress over my ppareent size.

I've been told that I'm about average in size by my urologist, but it just doesn't seem right. I recall being very satisfied in my youth and wish I could somehow regain this confidence. It's seriously affected my self image, desire for intimate involvement and sex life.


I'm a 30 year old guy. At about the age of 16, I developed a varicocele adjoining my left testicle, had a kidney infection, plus appendicitis in a period of about 12 months. My penis and testicles underwent a huge change, where they became harder, less sensitive and greatly shrunken. My penis size dropped about two inches, and my libido has never recovered.

It is still to this day a huge problem for me. Sadly, GPs seem reluctant to recognize any problem and tend to recommend counseling and anti-depressants rather than any real treatment.

If anyone has any info that could help, it would be greatly appreciated. I really think this is a grossly under-diagnosed problem for a lot of men.


You know, I hope that anyone dealing with this issue ends up with a doctor with a nice bedside manner. Because as the article said, penile atrophy isn't actually medically dangerous. So there's really no reason to treat it, except for psychological and quality of life reasons.

I can imagine a doctor who was lacking in empathy being reluctant to spend time on this condition. Especially if the hormone therapy that treats this condition causes unpleasant side effects. I know some doctors like to weight the benefits of taking medications with their positive effects.


@Pharoah - Actually, I think that most health issues concerning the reproductive system aren't that well publicized. There are a lot of conditions of the female reproductive system that aren't very well known either. I think people in general are uncomfortable dealing with problems in that area of the body.

Anyway, it sounds like all men are at risk for developing penile atrophy, which is kind of disturbing. I mean, getting old sounds bad enough as it is, but that sounds really rough.


I've never heard of penile or testicular atrophy before, which actually isn't that surprising. I feel like men's health issues (besides erectile dysfunction, of course) aren't that well publicized.

I think a lot of this has to do with the embarrassment men feel about these problems. A lot of men consider their penis as a direct representation of their virility and worth as a man. To admit that there is something wrong "down there" would probably be really hard for a lot of men. So I imagine this is why this issue isn't more publicized.


@MikeMason-- Did you have any injury where you received a blow to the penis and testicles? Because that could be another reason for atrophy.

It happened to me when I was in high school. I got a blow to the area while playing soccer which damaged a vein that carries blood to the penis and testicles. Until the vein recovered, I had atrophy in my penis.

I also had a friend who experienced the same because of hormones. The interesting part was that he had enough testosterone, but his estrogen was too high. So he took medications to lower his estrogen and everything went back to normal.

It seems like there are so many different reasons as to why this could happen.


@MikeMason-- Yea, penile atrophy can happen to young men too. You cannot know what is causing it without going to the doctor for an examination and having tests done. Please don't be afraid to see a doctor about this. There is nothing to be ashamed of, many men experience this sometime in their lifetime.

As far as I know, penile atrophy usually happens to young men in their thirties, especially if they've gained weight recently and have become less active. Hormonal imbalance and underproduction of testosterone is of course another major cause like the article mentioned. A simple blood test can tell if your testosterone levels are abnormal.

Since you said that you are underweight, I'm sure that malnutrition could be a factor too. Like I said, see a doctor so that whatever the underlying cause is, it can be treated. Waiting might make things worse.


Just curious, can penis atrophy happen to someone who is young? And if so, what might be the cause of it? Hormones?

I'm in my twenties, and for the last couple of years, my penis and testicles appear smaller than they used to. I think there is some decrease in erectile function too.

To be honest, I've been avoiding going to the doctor because I don't think that I could be having penis atrophy at this age. I'm generally health, a little bit underweight, but that's all. I'm also not comfortable with discussing this with someone face to face.

If anyone has any information about penile atrophy in the young, I would appreciate it if you could share it with me here.

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