Foreskin Symptoms

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What are the signs of foreskin problems?

The foreskin is the sheath of skin that covers the penis. The penis is an external structure of the male reproductive system that is composed of multiple parts. These include the root, which connects the penis to the abdominal wall, the body (shaft), the glans penis (head), and the urethra (a tube that transports semen and urine out of the body).

Additionally, the penis contains muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and the penile suspensory ligament, which supports the penis when it is erect. Within the penis are three chambers made of spongy tissue that fill with blood and expand during sexual arousal, resulting in an erection. The foreskin’s loose folds of skin retract automatically when the penis is erect. The foreskin can also be retracted manually for urination or examination of the penis.

Many parents of infant boys have the foreskin surgically removed shortly after birth in a procedure called circumcision. However, circumcision rates in the United States are dropping, increasing the incidence of intact foreskins. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), circumcision incidence declined from 56% in 2006 to 32.5% in 2009 (Source: CDC). The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 30% of men globally are circumcised (Source: WHO).

  • Foreskin symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the top or underside of the foreskin

  • Blisters, sores or ulcers

  • Burning feeling from the foreskin

  • Inability to pull back or retract the foreskin to reveal the penile head

  • Inability to return a retracted foreskin to cover the penile head

  • Pain

  • Redness or other discoloration

  • Smegma (thick secretion that builds up under the foreskin)

  • Swelling

  • Tear or other perforation

  • Warts

  • White spots or patches

Depending on the underlying cause, foreskin symptoms may begin suddenly and last briefly or develop gradually and persist. Foreskin symptoms can range from mild and passing to very painful. They can be due to a variety of diseases, disorders and conditions, such as allergy, injury, cancer and infection, including certain sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Untreated serious foreskin symptoms can lead to damage to the foreskin and penile head, which can, in turn, prevent a man from having an erection and affect a man’s sexual health and fertility. Foreskin symptoms can also disrupt urination, which can damage related organs, such as the bladder and kidneys.

Foreskin symptoms can be a sign of serious and even life-threatening conditions, such STDs and penile cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you have foreskin symptoms that are unexplained, persist, or cause you concern.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have enlargement or swelling of the head of the penis with a tight, constricting band of foreskin tissue below the head. This might be a condition called paraphimosis, which can lead to gangrene and loss of the penis tip if it is not quickly treated. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have bloody urine or an inability to urinate, which could signal a urinary blockage.

What other symptoms might occur with foreskin symptoms?

Foreskin symptoms may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Foreskin symptoms may originate in the foreskin itself or may occur due to conditions in the general genital area.

Other symptoms occurring with foreskin symptoms

Additional symptoms that may occur along with foreskin symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the penis shaft

  • Blisters, sores, ulcers or warts on the penis shaft or testicles

  • Bruising

  • Discharge, with or without a foul smell

  • Genital itching

  • Genital swelling (edema)

  • Pain in the penis shaft or testicles

  • Rash on the head or shaft of the penis or the testicles

  • Redness or other change in the color of the penis shaft or testicles

  • Urinary problems, such as difficulty urinating, burning with urination, and bloody urine

Symptoms of penile cancer occurring with foreskin symptoms

Rarely, foreskin symptoms may be accompanied by symptoms of penile cancer that include:

  • Bleeding

  • Discharge under the foreskin

  • Fatigue

  • Lump in your groin, with or without pain

  • Penis rash

  • Penis sore that does not heal

  • Stomach pain

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Wart-like lesion on the penis

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Foreskin symptoms can be a sign of serious and even life-threatening conditions, such as STDs and penile cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you have foreskin symptoms that are unexplained, persist, or cause you concern.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have the following symptoms:

  • Bloody urine or an inability to urinate

  • Enlargement or swelling of the head of the penis with a tight, constricting band of foreskin tissue below the head. This could be due to paraphimosis, which can lead to gangrene and loss of the penis tip if is it not quickly treated.

  • Tearing or other injury to the foreskin or penis

What causes foreskin symptoms?

Foreskin symptoms can be caused by a variety of diseases and conditions, such as an allergic reaction, irritation, or an infection, such as a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Foreskin symptoms can also be caused by injury or trauma due to surgery, an accident, or sexual activity.

Many foreskin symptoms can be prevented by practicing proper hygiene, using hypoallergenic soaps on the penis, and ensuring that the foreskin is pulled back over the penis head after sexual activity and medical procedures.

Traumatic causes of foreskin symptoms

Foreskin symptoms may be caused by injury or trauma to the penis due to a variety of conditions including:

  • Genital injuries, such as when the foreskin is caught in a zipper

  • Genital piercing

  • Overvigorous sexual activity

  • Penis fracture, which can occur from blunt trauma to the penis during erection

  • Surgical procedures such as circumcision

Infectious and inflammatory causes of foreskin symptoms

Foreskin symptoms can be caused by infections or inflammatory reactions including:

  • Allergic reaction to spermicides, detergents or soaps

  • Balanitis (inflammation under the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis)

  • Infection from an injury to the foreskin

  • Irritation such as from harsh soaps

  • Poor hygiene such as not washing under the foreskin

  • STDs, such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, chancroid, and genital herpes

  • Yeast infection (caused by C. albicans)

Other causes of foreskin symptoms

Other causes of foreskin symptoms include:

  • Chemical burns

  • Forgetting to pull your foreskin back down after sex, cleaning, or a medical exam or procedure

  • Heredity

  • Lichen sclerosus (chronic skin condition causing white patches on the genitals and anus)

  • Paraphimosis (condition in which the foreskin is pulled back and unable to return to its original location, which can lead to pain, swelling, impaired blood flow to the penis, and eventually tissue death)

  • Penile cancer

  • Phimosis (very tight foreskin that cannot be retracted to reveal the penile head, which may interfere with urination)

  • Reactive arthritis

Questions for diagnosing the cause of foreskin symptoms

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care provider will ask you several questions related to your symptoms. Providing complete answers to these questions will help your provider in diagnosing the cause of foreskin symptoms:

  • When did the foreskin symptoms start?

  • Are there any activities that increase the severity of your symptoms?

  • Are you experiencing any problems with urination or sexual activities?

  • Do you feel pain in any part of the foreskin or penis?

  • Have you recently experienced any injuries or trauma to your genitals?

  • What are your genital hygiene practices?

  • What symptoms are you experiencing in the foreskin or elsewhere on the penis?

  • What symptoms are you feeling elsewhere in your body?

What are the potential complications of foreskin symptoms?

Complications associated with foreskin symptoms can vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Complications of foreskin symptoms and their underlying causes can be serious, even life threatening. Once the underlying cause is determined, following the treatment plan outlined by your healthcare provider can help reduce any potential complications including:

  • Bladder and kidney damage

  • Damage to the penile head

  • Depression

  • Embarrassment

  • Erectile dysfunction, problems with intimacy, and other sexual difficulties

  • Infertility

  • Injury to the penis

  • Necrosis (tissue death) and gangrene of penile tissues

  • Scarring

  • Spread of penile cancer

  • Urinary incontinence or inability to urinate

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 10
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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