What Are Penile Implants?

March 30,2024 |
male patient with doctor

Erectile dysfunction is a common urologic condition that affects close to 30 million men in the United States, but it's not necessarily a normal part of sexual function. Several factors can increase your likelihood of impaired sexual function, just as there are many treatment options available. Although a treatment plan from your urologist will usually include several lifestyle changes, some men with erectile dysfunction don't find relief. In this case, your doctor may recommend the placement of penile implants. For more information, we'll review some key information surrounding penile prostheses.

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is a common condition where a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual activity. It can affect men of all ages but is more prevalent in older individuals. Various factors contribute to the development of ED, including underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hormonal imbalances, as well as psychological factors like stress and anxiety. Lifestyle choices, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, can also play a role. Luckily, there are several treatment options for ED.

Different Types of Penile Implants

A penile implant is a device that's been surgically implanted to help you maintain or get an erection. There are two primary types of penile implants used today: semi-rigid and inflatable. Both types of penile implants are effective in treating erectile dysfunction and can help men regain their ability to have a satisfying sex life. The choice between the two types will depend on factors such as individual preferences, lifestyle, and the recommendations of healthcare providers. Penile implants will help individuals achieve an erection, but they will not lead to a stronger sex drive or more sensation in the area.

Non-Inflatable Penile Implants (Semi-Rigid Rods)

These implants consist of two semi-rigid rods that are surgically implanted into the penis. The rods can be bent upward for sexual activity and then positioned down when not in use. This type of implant provides constant firmness but may not allow for the same flexibility as an inflatable implant. The semirigid rods will make your penis consistently firm, which may be uncomfortable for some men.

Inflatable Penile Implants

Two-piece inflatable penile implants consist of two inflatable cylinders that are surgically implanted into the penis along with a combined fluid reservoir pump and valve in the scrotum. When the pump is activated, fluid is transferred from the reservoir to the two cylinders, causing the penis to become erect. This type of implant allows for a more natural erection that can be inflated and deflated as needed.

Three-piece inflatable implants work similarly, except the fluid reservoir is positioned in the abdomen under the abdominal wall. The pump is implanted in the scrotum, and the two inflatable cylinders inside the penis make the erection firm enough for sexual activity. Three-piece inflatable implants tend to be the most like a natural erection. For both inflatable implants, the fluid used is salt water.

Who is Eligible for Penile Implant Surgery?

Men who have tried other treatments for erectile dysfunction, such as medications or penile injections, without success may be eligible for penile implant surgery. Additionally, men with conditions such as Peyronie's disease, which causes curvature of the penis, may also be candidates for surgery. However, it's important to talk to your doctor about whether a penile implant is right for you, as surgery can still pose other risks. Individuals with infections, poorly managed diabetes, or heart disease may not be eligible for this surgical procedure.

How Long Does a Penile Implant Last?

The longevity of a penile implant can vary, but most are designed to last at least 10 to 15 years. Some newer models may have a longer lifespan. Patients should follow up with their healthcare provider regularly to monitor the function of the implant and address any issues that may arise.

Complications of Penile Implants

As with any surgery, there are some complications of penile implants. The most common include swelling and discomfort within the penis and scrotum. Infections are also common, so your doctor may prescribe antibiotics as a precautionary measure. Although rare, two other complications can occur.

Internal Erosion

Internal erosion or adhesion of penile implants occurs when the device gets "stuck" to the skin inside the penis or causes erosion along the internal lining. Most often, this complication is linked to an untreated infection, but in very rare instances, it can cause the implant to break through the skin. However unlikely, it's still important to be aware of it so you can see your doctor at the first sign of any issue.

Malfunctions with Implants

Thanks to advancements in technology, implants have come a long way. This means malfunctions are rare, but they can still happen. If you notice your implants are not inflating or don't seem fully expanding, you may need to undergo follow-up surgery to fix the issue. Broken devices don't cause any harm, however, so you can leave it if you don't want to undergo another surgery.

How to Prepare for Penile Implants

Penile implant surgery typically involves the placement of a new implant inside the penis to allow men to resume sexual activity. This outpatient procedure is often recommended for the treatment of erectile dysfunction when other options, like medications or a vacuum constriction device, have not been successful. A three-piece inflatable penile implant allows the provider to customize the size and inflate or deflate the implant as needed.

Have a Physical Exam

A physical exam is necessary to confirm the diagnosis of ED and explore alternative treatment options. A physical can also help your doctor determine if any underlying causes may be contributing to ED or that may increase your risk of complications after surgery.

Review Your Medical Health History

Your doctor will want to review your medical history with you, especially regarding the details of your ED. Since many cases of ED can be treated with medications, you may be recommended to try various alternatives before the surgery is approved. Disclose as much information as you can to help your doctor make the best decision for your circumstances.

Prepare for Surgery

Your doctor will give you the pre-op instructions ahead of time. These usually involve avoiding eating or drinking anything after midnight the night before your surgery is scheduled. You'll also need to stop taking certain medications that could interfere with the surgery or increase your risk of bleeding. Again, your doctor will discuss this in detail with you ahead of time. Although you can go home the same day, you'll need to prepare a ride home from the surgery center.

What to Expect with the Surgery

During the surgery, the provider will make an incision at the surgery site (below the head of the penis) and place the implant inside the tissue that would normally fill with blood during an erection. The pump and valve are typically placed inside the scrotum, allowing for a more natural look. In three-piece systems, the reservoir is placed underneath the abdominal wall. Small variations in the surgery will occur depending on the type of implant you choose. The entire process typically only takes about 45 minutes to one hour, and you're able to go home the same day.

Antibiotics may be given before and after the surgery to help reduce the risk of infection. Pain medication may also be prescribed to help with any discomfort for the first few weeks. If you notice any signs of infection or irritation in the weeks after surgery, don't hesitate to contact your doctor.

You'll need to return about three to six weeks after the surgery to learn how to use the implant. It may take six weeks or more for the swelling to go down and for you to see the full benefits of the implant. Most men can resume sexual activity about four to six weeks after surgery, but it's important to get clearance from your doctor beforehand.

After healing, the Mayo Clinic reports that penile implants tend to have a high satisfaction rate, with mechanical failure being rare. Medicare usually covers the cost of penile implants, but always check with your insurance provider to confirm.

If you or your partner are experiencing ED, talk to your doctor to learn more about the treatment options available. To help you address other urologic conditions, Byram Healthcare offers a wide selection of high-quality urologic supplies that can be discreetly delivered to your door. For more information, contact one of our representatives today.