What is priapism?
A persistent, prolonged erection of the penis that will not go down is called priapism. This unwanted erection may or may not be caused by sexual arousal, is usually very painful and can last for 2 hours or longer.
Priapism is a medical emergency. The sooner you treat it, the less risk that the penis will be damaged. If it’s not treated within 24 hours your penis may be permanently damaged and you might have trouble getting an erection in future.
If you have had an erection that has lasted more than 2 hours, you should go to the nearest emergency department for medical attention.
Prolonged erection, or priapism, occurs because the blood in the penis becomes trapped and is unable to return to the circulation.
What are the causes of priapism?
The most common cause of priapism is a side effect of medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, particularly penis injections.
You should take medicines for erection problems only if they are prescribed by an authorised health practitioner, such as your doctor, specialist nurse or erectile specialist. Medicines bought on the internet may be of poor quality and may contain ingredients that are not safe when taken in combination with other medicines you are on. They may also be unsafe due to other health problems you have. Learn more about erectile dysfunction medicines. If you are worried that you might have been sold counterfeit medicines, then report it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Other causes of priapism include:
- blood disorders or other medical conditions
- some prescription medications
- drug use
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How is priapism treated?
If an erection is painful, you can use an ice pack to relieve the swelling. But it should not be placed directly against the skin — try wrapping a bag of frozen peas in a cloth (such as a tea towel) and mould this around the swollen area.
If your erection is prolonged (lasts longer than 2 hours), seek emergency treatment.
Hospital treatment of priapism may include medicine to help blood leave the penis. It may also including using a needle and syringe to release some of the blood in the penis. Surgery may also be an option.
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Last reviewed: October 2021