What is Priapism?

What is Priapism?

Priapism is a relatively rare condition involving an erection that lasts for an unusually long time which can usually be quite painful and unrelated to sexual stimulus. Immediate treatment is important to prevent tissue damage and erectile dysfunction.

But why does Priapism occur, how can it be treated, and how do you prevent it from happening to you? Read on to find out.

What is Priapism?

Priapism most commonly occurs in men in their 30s and above. It involves a prolonged erection of the penis which can occur for many hours and is not caused by sexual stimulation. It usually occurs because the blood, blood vessels, smooth muscles or nerves changes normal blood flow causing an erection to persist. Although Priapism is an uncommon condition overall, it occurs commonly in certain groups, such as people who have sickle cell Anemia. Prompt treatment for Priapism is always required to prevent tissue damage that could result in the inability to get or maintain an erection. 

Types of Priapism

The symptoms of Priapism will vary depending on the type of Priapism. The two main types of Priapism are ischemic and nonischemic.

Ischemic: the result of blood not being able to leave the penis. Symptoms include an erection which lasts for more than four hours with a rigid shaft, but a soft tip as well as progressive pain in the penis. Some men may also experience ischemic Priapism recurrently with symptoms worsening each time. 

Nonischemic: occurs when blood flow to the penis is not regulated correctly in the body. Nonischemic Priapism is not as common as ischemic cases; however, they are usually less painful and pose far less risk. Signs and symptoms include an erection lasting more than four hours with an erect but not fully rigid shaft.


It can sometimes be difficult for a doctor to determine exactly what has caused a Priapism, however, there are a number of possible causes. These include: 

  • Blood disorders such as Sickle cell Anemia and Leukemia
  • Prescription medications such as anti-depressants, alpha-blockers, hormone medication and blood thinners. 
  • Alcohol and drug use 
  • Trauma or injury to the penis, pelvis or perineum


There are a number of possible treatments that a doctor may suggest based on what type of Priapism has been experienced. Treatments include:

  • Draining excess blood with a small needle
  • Phenylephrine injections into the penis
  • Surgery to reroute blood flow 

Prevention of recurrent Priapism

If you have recurrent Priapism, to prevent future episodes your doctor might recommend:

  • Treatment for an underlying condition, such as sickle cell Anemia that might have initially caused Priapism
  • Use of oral or injectable phenylephrine
  • Hormone-blocking medications 
  • Erectile dysfunction medication

It is important to talk to a trusted professional when it comes to your health. If you have any questions or would like to book an appointment, please feel free to contact or call Dr Arianayagam’s office on 1300 307 990 and his staff will be able to assist.

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