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Priapism in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.

What is priapism?

Priapism is an erection that lasts for 4 hours or longer. The erection may occur without stimulation. The cause of priapism is not always known. Priapism is usually painful and can lead to permanent tissue damage.

What are the types of priapism?

  • Low-flow priapism (ischemic) means the blood flow in your child's penis becomes blocked. He may also have a painful erection that comes and goes over many hours. Low-flow priapism is an emergency and must be treated immediately.
  • High-flow priapism (non-ischemic) means too much blood flows into your child's penis. He will have an erection for 4 hours or more but it is usually not painful.

What increases my child's risk for priapism?

  • Medical conditions, such as sickle cell disease, blood disorders, or leukemia
  • Medicines to treat high blood pressure, depression, and other mood disorders
  • Trauma, such as a groin, back, or spinal cord injury.
  • Drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana
  • Alcohol in large amounts

How is priapism diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine him or her. Tell the provider when your child's symptoms began and if they are constant. Also tell the provider about all your child's current medicines. The provider may ask about any recent surgery or procedure your child had. He may also need any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests may show what is causing your child's condition, or how serious it is.
  • An ultrasound may be done to check the blood flow in your child's penis.

How is priapism in children treated?

Treatment will depend on the type your child has. High-flow priapism often goes away on its own. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may help regulate your child's hormone levels. He may also need an injection in his penis to help decrease blood flow.
  • Pain medicine may be given. Ask how often your child should get pain medicine, and how much should be given.
  • Aspiration is done to remove blood from your child's penis. His penis is numbed and blood is removed with a needle.
  • Surgery may be done to place a shunt in your child's penis. The shunt allows the blood to pass through and out of the penis. Surgery may also be done to stop blood flow to your child's penis for a short time.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

Apply ice on your child's groin for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps decrease blood flow to your child's penis and relieve his erection.

How can I help prevent priapism in my child?

  • Make sure your child sees his healthcare provider for regular checkups. If your child has a medical condition, such as sickle cell disease, make sure he follows his treatment plan.
  • Talk with your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. Talk with your child's healthcare provider if your child drinks alcohol or takes drugs and needs help to stop.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child has a painful erection that comes and goes over many hours.
  • Your child has trouble urinating.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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