What is priapism?

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Priapism (prolonged erection): Overview

Priapism (say "PRY-uh-piz-um") is an erection that does not go away. This happens when the penis stays erect without sexual stimulation. A painful erection lasting more than several hours can damage tissues. Without urgent medical treatment, this can result in erectile dysfunction and the inability to have sexual intercourse.

The cause of priapism is often not known. But it can happen from having a blood disease like sickle cell disease or as a side effect of many medicines.

Your doctor may have removed blood from your penis. This was to help the erection go away. And you may have been given a shot of medicine to soften the erection. If these treatments don't help, surgery may be needed.


Priapism is a condition in which the penis stays erect without sexual stimulation. It can affect people of any age.

The most common type of priapism is low-flow priapism. Although the cause is often unknown, it can result from sickle cell disease or another blood disease. Or it can be caused by the use of certain medicines.

Low-flow priapism can be a serious problem. It can cause severe pain and may damage the penis, making it impossible to get a normal erection (erectile dysfunction). Erectile dysfunction is the main long-term result of priapism, and it can occur after just one episode of priapism.

The other type of priapism is called high-flow priapism. It is most often caused by an injury. It doesn't cause pain, and it often goes away on its own.

Any episode of priapism that causes pain and lasts for more than 3 hours requires urgent medical treatment.

How can you care for yourself after having priapism?

  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Urinate often. Don't wait until you feel the need.
  • Talk to your doctor about the medicine that may have caused the painful erection. You may be able to stop taking it.

Priapism (prolonged erection): When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a new painful erection that lasts for more than 3 hours.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.