In most cases, seeing veins beneath the skin of the penis is perfectly normal and does not require medical attention.
Several factors influence vein visibility, including:
- frequency and intensity of physical activity
- cardiovascular health
- underlying medical conditions
In this article, we discuss why the veins in the penis might appear prominent and what this means.
We also review potential underlying medical conditions that contribute to penis vein visibility and when to see a doctor.
There are several veins and arteries that carry blood to and from the spongy erectile tissue in the penis.
Veins may look larger than usual during and immediately following an erection. Although the appearance of prominent veins may cause alarm, they indicate healthy blood flow.
Genetics and age can influence skin thickness, which may make veins appear more prominent or bigger than usual.
Also, blood clots and other conditions that affect the cardiovascular system can trap blood in the veins, which may affect how these blood vessels look.
Typically, prominent veins do not affect erectile function.
Conditions that affect blood flow, such as blood clots and atherosclerosis, can have a minor impact on erectile function.
Research suggests a close relationship between cardiovascular health and erectile function.
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Vein size and visibility may vary over a person’s lifetime. They can also change as a result of sexual activity, or due to an underlying health condition.
Some possible causes of prominent veins in the penis include:
During an erection, oxygenated blood from the heart flows through the cavernous artery, which supplies the three chambers of spongy tissue that make up the corpus cavernosum and the corpus spongiosum.
The increase in blood flow causes the spongy tissue to expand, resulting in an erection. The tunica albuginea keeps blood in the corpus cavernosum.
The blood will then drain through the veins near the surface of the penis and travel back to the heart and lungs. The spongy tissue will remain engorged with blood until the erection goes away.
A varicocele refers to enlargement of the veins that make up the pampiniform plexus in the scrotum, which is the loose skin that surrounds the testes.
Varicoceles develop during puberty and affect about 10–15% of young males.
The exact cause remains unknown, but the following factors may contribute to the formation of varicoceles:
- reduced blood flow
- swollen lymph nodes
- injury or trauma to the testes
Varicoceles do not require treatment unless there is also:
- low sperm count
- a lump on or near the testes
- swelling of the scrotum
A blood clot, or thrombosis, is a medical condition that occurs when blood cells stick together to form solid masses in the blood vessels. Blood clots can interrupt or completely stop blood flow.
Penile blood clots can develop in the dorsal vein in the penis, resulting in a rare condition called Mondor’s disease. Mondor’s disease can lead to significant pain and swelling in the affected veins.
According to a 2018 case study, penile blood clots typically resolve on their own within 1–4 weeks.
Lymphedema refers to swelling that occurs when lymph fluid incorrectly flows through the body.
Swelling due to lymphedema can make the veins more visible than usual.
- blockages in the lymphatic system
- cancer treatment
- removal of lymph nodes
- scar tissue buildup from surgery
Peyronie’s disease occurs when scar tissue, or plaque, forms in the top or bottom of the penis. The buildup of scar tissue can cause the penis to curve or bend, which can lead to severe pain during sexual intercourse.
The scar tissue that develops may feel slightly firm to the touch. Scar tissue that calcifies can feel like a hard, solid mass beneath the skin.
- autoimmune disease
- vigorous sexual activity
The abnormal hardening of a lymph vessel in the penis characterizes lymphangiosclerosis.
Lymphangiosclerosis can develop due to:
- injury causing tissue damage in the penis
- scarring from circumcision
- sexually transmitted infections
- vigorous sexual activity
Unlike a prominent vein, lymphangiosclerosis will look similar to the rest of the skin. The hardened lymph vessel usually forms just below the head of the penis and measures about 3 millimeters thick.
A doctor may perform blood tests and analyze a small tissue sample to diagnose lymphangiosclerosis.
Lymphangiosclerosis typically goes away on its own within 4–6 weeks and rarely causes complications.
People with lymphangiosclerosis should try to abstain from sexual activity, including masturbation until completely healed.
In most cases, a person will have no reason to worry if the veins in their penis appear more prominent than usual.
However, people may want to consider speaking with a doctor if the appearance of veins in their penis causes them distress, or if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- pain during erection, ejaculation, or urination
- swelling of the penis or testicles
- hard, flesh colored cord on the penis
- lumps on the penis or scrotum
- pain in the lower abdomen or back
If any of these symptoms occur alongside prominent veins in the penis, it may indicate an underlying medical condition.
The appearance of prominent veins in the penis may cause some concern.
However, enlarged penile veins usually occur as the result of normal blood flow to and from the penis.
In rare cases, an underlying medical condition can contribute to the appearance of penile veins. These conditions include:
- cardiovascular diseases, such as blood clots
- Peyronie’s disease
People may want to consider contacting their doctor if they have noticeable cord-like structures on their penis or testicles.
People should seek immediate medical attention if they experience:
- painful erection or ejaculation
- swelling or lumps on the penis or scrotum
- pain in the lower back or abdomen
- unusual discharge from the penis