What is Priapism? (with pictures)

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Priapism is a medical emergency. In this condition, a man’s erection does not end after four hours. This can lead to significant pain and damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the penis.

Men who experience erections lasting longer than four hours should consult a doctor immediately.
Men who experience erections lasting longer than four hours should consult a doctor immediately.

Priapism has received some attention since the advent of medications like Viagra® and Cialis®, which can help men with erectile dysfunction maintain an erection through intercourse. Although the advantages to these medications are clear, on rare occasions priapism can occur and should warrant an immediate trip to the doctor or to an emergency room. Though this condition has been the subject of quite a bit of joking by comedians, it is definitely not comedic, and should be treated with great seriousness.

Priapism can lead to significant pain and damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the penis.
Priapism can lead to significant pain and damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the penis.

Priapism may also be caused by other conditions. Some genital infections, leukemia, or sickle-cell disease can cause priapism to manifest. As well, priapism may be the result of injury to the spine, which is, in itself, deserving of medical attention. Prolonged sexual activity can on very rare occasions also lead to this condition. Certain other medications like antidepressants and blood pressure medication may also increase risk for priapism.

Priapism may be an adverse effect of taking medicines such as Viagra.
Priapism may be an adverse effect of taking medicines such as Viagra.

Untreated priapism is associated with several severe complications. Risk for the blood clotting and causing a stroke is particularly high. As well, untreated priapism can result in infection of the penis leading to gangrene. In some cases, the only treatment of neglected priapism is amputation of the penis or scrotal tissue.

This severe step is extremely unlikely if patients see a doctor immediately. The main treatment is to remove blood from the erect penis, a procedure done under local anesthesia. When this is not effective, a shunt may be placed which will allow the penis to drain of blood. Usually these treatments are successful and no further treatment is required.

Priapism is a serious medical complication, and necessitates emergency medical care.
Priapism is a serious medical complication, and necessitates emergency medical care.

However, a case of priapism warrants a full medical examination and evaluation to look for underlying causes that may require treatment. For example a person with a recent spinal injury might undergo X-rays to be certain the injury is not severe. Those who have priapism caused by a medication will likely take different medications in the future. Where a cause cannot be identified, physicians may run blood tests and scans to evaluate for blood disease, infection, or hormonal imbalances.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent InfoBloom contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent InfoBloom contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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    • Men who experience erections lasting longer than four hours should consult a doctor immediately.
      Men who experience erections lasting longer than four hours should consult a doctor immediately.
    • Priapism can lead to significant pain and damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the penis.
      Priapism can lead to significant pain and damage to the blood vessels and surrounding tissues of the penis.
    • Priapism may be an adverse effect of taking medicines such as Viagra.
      Priapism may be an adverse effect of taking medicines such as Viagra.
    • Priapism is a serious medical complication, and necessitates emergency medical care.
      Priapism is a serious medical complication, and necessitates emergency medical care.
    • On rare occasions, prolonged sexual activity can lead to priapism.
      On rare occasions, prolonged sexual activity can lead to priapism.