Is That Red Penis the Result of Diabetes Treatment?

Regular inspection of the manhood is important for penis health, and signals such as an inflamed red penis can alert a man to potential issues that he needs to address. Often, a man with diabetes may be more prone to inflammation (often termed balanitis) than a man without diabetes. Taking steps to treat this inflammation aids in keeping the member healthy.

Balanitis

Balanitis is a persistent inflammation of the penis, usually in the glans (or head) and/or the foreskin. An overly red penis is the most typical symptom, often accompanied by varying degrees of soreness or over-sensitivity in the affected area; in some cases, the soreness can be significant. Often, the red penis can be very itchy, as well. Rashes or flakiness of the skin can also develop.

In general, men who are intact are somewhat more likely to develop balanitis than those who are circumcised. But regardless of foreskin status, men with diabetes are at increased risk of balanitis; experts rank diabetes as the main underlying cause of balanitis in adult men.

Diabetes connection

Why does diabetes bring about this inflamed situation in the penis? Not surprisingly, it has to do with blood sugar levels.

When a person’s blood sugar levels are not managed properly, there can be an excessive build-up of sugar in the urine. Sugary urine is an especially attractive breeding place for bacteria. When urine leaves the penis, it is not uncommon for some small droplets to dribble onto the foreskin or the glans of the penis. When the sugary urine dries, the bacteria stays on the penis and causes the inflammation.

Maintaining proper blood sugar levels can help men with diabetes to avoid an unhealthy red penis. It’s also important to be vigilant about wiping away stray drops of urine from the penis.

Treatment can be an issue.

Sometimes, however, a man with diabetes who takes pains to keep his penis cleansed of urine drops may still develop balanitis. This has to do with the medications that may be involved in treatment, especially of type 2 diabetes.

Many diabetes medications fall into a class of drugs known as SGLT2 inhibitors. (SGLT2 stands for sodium-glucose co-transporter type 2.) The goal of these drugs is to help lower blood sugar; they also can help to lower blood pressure and may even provide a slight weight loss benefit. However, they do often bring about an increased risk of balanitis.

The reason for this increased risk has to do with how the drugs lower blood sugar levels. They do this by essentially scavenging the blood for excess sugar, capturing some of that excess and sending it to be released through urinary excretion. In other words, it gets rid of the sugar in the blood but it increases the sugar in the urine.

In addition, SGLT2 inhibitors can sometimes cause varying levels of dehydration. Dehydrated skin in the penis is more susceptible to inflammation, itching and flaking.

Men who are on SGLT2 inhibitors should take a little extra time after urination to wipe away any excess droplets. (Shaking them away is not usually sufficient, as some urine is likely to remain on the penis after shaking.) Those who are intact should be sure to clean regularly underneath the prepuce as well.

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