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What is priapism?

Priapism is when you have an unwanted ongoing erection. The erection occurs without sexual stimulation. Your 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 penis become blocked and blood cannot flow out. It is also called ischemic priapism. Your erection is present for 4 hours or longer. You 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 penis. You have an erection for 4 hours or more but it is normally not painful. This is also called nonischemic priapism.

What increases my risk for priapism?

  • Medical conditions, such as sickle cell disease, penile tumors, or leukemia
  • Medicines, such as blood thinners, and those that treat erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, or mental health conditions
  • Trauma, such as a groin, back, or spinal cord injury, or an injury during sex
  • Drugs, such as cocaine and marijuana
  • Alcohol in large amounts

What tests may I need?

  • Blood tests may be done to check the oxygen level in your 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 penis.

How is priapism treated?

Treatment will depend on the type of priapism you have. High-flow priapism often goes away on its own. You may need any of the following:

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

How can I prevent priapism?

  • Manage medical conditions that increase your risk for priapism. Take your medicines as directed.
  • Do not drink alcohol if it caused your priapism before.
  • Do not use drugs. Talk with your healthcare provider if you use drugs and need help to stop.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have any questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have an erection for more than 4 hours.
  • You have a painful erection that happens over and over.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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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Learn more about Priapism

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.