Priapism: Definition, Causes, Treatments & More

Priapism: Definition, Causes, Treatments & More
Published : Feb 04, 2024
Last Updated : Feb 07, 2024

Priapism is a very rare condition that leads to an uncontrolled erection that lasts for a long time. It is painful.

Sexual stimulation might be involved but there are also other causes like medications, medical conditions, or recreational medicines.

In case, you experience priapism then quick and immediate treatment is necessary as it will help to prevent tissue damage.

What is Priapism?

The problem of priapism occurs when blood in the male sexual organ gets trapped and is not able to drain. If the condition is not treated on time then you can suffer from scarring and permanent erectile dysfunction.

This medical condition can occur in all age groups including newborn babies. Though, priapism generally affects men in two different age groups i.e., between the age of 5 to 10 and 20 to 50.

Two main types of priapism include: low-flow and high-flow

Low-flow priapism

When you suffer from low-flow priapism, the blood gets trapped in the erection chambers. This condition occurs in men without a known cause who are otherwise healthy. It also affects men suffering from sickle-cell disease, malaria, or leukemia

High-flow priapism

It is a very rare and not painful condition. High-flow priapism is the result of a ruptured artery from an injury to the male sexual organ. This further prevents blood in the male reproductive organ from circulating properly.

Symptoms of Priapism

Men suffering from priapism usually experience prolonged erection as the primary symptom. However, other symptoms mainly depend upon the type of priapism that occurs.

Some of the common symptoms of ischemic priapism are stated below:

  • Penile pain that increases with time
  • An erection where the tip of the male sexual organ turns out soft

It is important to know that non-ischemic priapism is generally painless and causes an erection that is not rigid completely.

Causes of priapism

When it comes to priapism, there are several causes. Some of them are stated below:

  • Medicines: There are certain medicines that are responsible for affecting nerves in your body including in the male reproductive organ. Usually, these nerves widen up the arteries that supply the male sexual organ. This further allows it to become inflamed and erect.
  • Drugs: Intake of certain recreational drugs like cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, and marijuana is responsible for causing priapism.
  • Cancers: In very rare cases, priapism might occur with some types of cancerous growths. This condition mainly happens if they hinder the penile artery or nerve supply, causing blockages.  
  • Blood disorders: There are some blood conditions that can cause priapism. Multiple myeloma, thalassemia, and chronic leukemia are linked with priapism.

Thus, these are some major reasons that cause men to suffer from priapism.


The treatment of priapism usually depends upon the type as well as the cause. A doctor will first do an evaluation and then accordingly decide whether a patient is suffering from ischemic or non-ischemic and the cause linked to it.    

In case, the male reproductive organ has been erect for less than 4 hours then the doctor might recommend decongestant medicines. These medications help to reduce the flow of blood to the male sexual organ. This further becomes effective in decreasing the erection.

If the erection lasts for 4-6 hours, medicine is generally effective.

After 6 hours, or if the medicine is ineffective, other measures are required. These mainly include:

  • Ice packs: If applied to the male sexual organ or perineum, ice packs can quickly decrease swelling as well as non-ischemic priapism.
  • Aspiration: The male sexual organ becomes numbed with medication and a needle is inserted by a doctor. This helps in draining the blood that is collected. The procedure provides quick relief from pain and swelling. 
  • Surgery: When ice packs and aspiration are unsuccessful, surgery might be required to restore the flow of blood to the male sexual organ.
  • Insertion of a shunt, or extra passageway, can assist to drain extra blood and bring back circulation. This is very effective in ischemic priapism.  


Ischemic priapism can cause severe complications. It is important to understand that the blood trapped in the male sexual organ is deprived of oxygen.

When an erection last for a long time mainly for more than four hours. This lack of oxygen can further start to damage or destroy the tissues present in the male sexual organ. Remember untreated priapism can lead to the condition of erectile dysfunction.

So, if you experience a painful or rare persistent erection then it is necessary to contact the doctor immediately. In case, you experience ischemic priapism, then the doctor might perform a procedure, recommend medicine, or take other steps to drain the male sexual organ of blood.