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Priapism

Prolonged, painful erection of the penis, which may not be related to sexual desire

  • More common in young adults
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

Priapism is a persistent erection of the penis occurring for 4 hours or longer, with or without any sexual arousal. The condition is usually painful, and it requires urgent treatment in hospital to avoid permanent damage to the erectile tissues of the penis.

Priapism develops if blood cannot drain away from the spongy tissues of the erect penis. Causes of the condition include damage to the nerves that control the supply of blood to the penis; disorders of the blood, including sickle-cell disease, leukaemia, and polycythaemia; and, in some instances, prolonged sexual intercourse. Priapism may also occur as a side effect of treatment with certain antipsychotic drugs. Drug treatments for erectile dysfunction, whether they are taken orally, such as the medication sildenafil, or injected into the penis, may rarely result in priapism.

What might be done?

If you develop a painful and very prolonged erection, particularly one that is not a result of sexual arousal, you must consult your doctor or go to your nearest accident and emergency department immediately. In most cases of priapism, blood can be drained from the erectile tissues of the penis by using a needle and syringe, which produces immediate relief of symptoms.

If priapism is a result of an underlying disorder, further treatment will depend on the cause. In all cases, there is a risk of permanent damage, and full erection of the penis may be adversely affected in the future.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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