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Priapism in Children


What is priapism?

Priapism is when your child has an erection that lasts 4 hours or longer. The erection may occur without stimulation. Your child's penis may be dark red or purplish. Priapism is usually painful and can lead to permanent tissue damage.

What are the types of priapism?

  • Low-flow priapism occurs when the veins in your child's penis become blocked and blood cannot flow out. It is also called ischemic priapism. His erection is present for 4 hours or longer. He may also have a painful erection that happens over and over for many hours. Low-flow priapism is an emergency and must be treated immediately.
  • High-flow priapism is when too much blood flows into your child's penis. He will have an erection for 4 hours or more but it is normally not painful. This is also called nonischemic priapism.

What increases my child's risk for priapism?

  • Medical conditions, such as sickle cell disease, penile tumors, or leukemia
  • Medicines to treat high blood pressure, depression, and other mood disorders
  • Trauma, such as a groin, back, or spinal cord injury, or an injury during sex if your teenager is sexually active
  • Drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine
  • Alcohol in large amounts

What tests may my child need?

  • Blood tests may be done to check the oxygen level in your child's penis. Blood tests may also be done to check for a condition that can lead to priapism.
  • Urine tests may be done to test for medicines or drugs.
  • 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 of priapism your child has. High-flow priapism often goes away on its own. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicine may be given to decrease pain and swelling or to regulate his hormone levels. Your child may also need an injection in his penis to help improve blood flow.
  • Ice packs applied to the groin may help decrease blood flow to your child's penis and relieve his erection.
  • Aspiration is done to remove blood from your child's penis. The penis is numbed and blood is removed with a needle. Your child's healthcare provider may also flush the blood vessels with saline.
  • 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 block blood flow to your child's penis for a short time.

How can I help decrease my child's risk for priapism?

  • 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 contact my child's healthcare provider?

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

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child has an erection for more than 4 hours.
  • Your child has a painful erection that happens over and over.

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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