Priapism is a medical condition that is characterized by the persistent, involuntary and painful erection of the penis not caused by sexual stimulation. Erection is not relieved by the ejaculation of semen. It is a rare condition that usually develops in males in their third decade. In this condition, blood supply to the penis is disturbed and blocked or trapped in the erection chamber and is not drained out. It usually lasts for 2 hours. But if it longs for more than 4 hours, it needs immediate medical intervention. This can damage the tissues of the penis permanently and cause infertility.


Why Is Priapism A Medical Emergency?

Why Is Priapism A Medical Emergency?

Priapism is an uncommon condition in which the penis gets erect for a long time without any sexual stimulation. This condition is painful, involuntary and persistent. Ejaculation cannot relieve the erection. It normalizes by itself within two hours. It can extend up to ten hours. It can affect males at any age more commonly in the age 5-10 years or 20-30 years. Newborn male infants can also develop priapism.


Priapism is a medical condition marked by the persistent, involuntary and painful erection of the penis without a sexual arousal. If the duration of erection exceeds over 4 hours, it demands emergency treated. If it is not treated in time, the tissues of the penis get scarred and damaged permanently leading to permanent erectile dysfunction and infertility.

There are two main types of priapism-


Ischemic Priapism – it is also known as low-flow priapism. It occurs when the blood gets stuck in the penis and it cannot leave the penis. It is the most common type of priapism.

Non-Ischemic Priapism – it is also known as high-flow priapism. It occurs when the blood flow to the penis is not regulated appropriately.


An erection happens as a result of physical or psychological stimulation in a normal situation. This stimulation leads to contraction and relaxation of smooth muscles and blood vessels of penis accelerating the flow of blood to them. This results in the erection of the penis. Once the stimulation goes away, there is a reduction in the blood flow, resulting in the end of the erection.

Priapism is caused by disrupted blood flow in the penis. The blood gets trapped in the erection chambers of the penis and is not able to drain out.

The diseases that affect the flow of blood to the penis are following-

  • Leukemia
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Multiple myelomas
  • Most male patients with sickle cell anemia (42%) suffer from priapism once in their lives.

Other factors that can induce priapism are following-

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Marijuana or cocaine abuse
  • Direct injury to the penile artery
  • Medicines prescribed for erectile dysfunction
  • Antidepressants
  • Alpha blockers
  • Blood thinners like warfarin or heparin
  • Antipsychotic medicines
  • Anti-anxiety medicines
  • Hormone therapy
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Medicines for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Metabolic disorders like gout or amyloidosis
  • Spider bite or scorpion sting
  • Toxic infections
  • Cancers of penis
  • Dialysis
  • Neurogenic disorders caused by injuries of spinal cord or syphilis


The penis becomes more painful due to prolonged erection. The patient feels extreme pain at the tip of the penis. This condition makes the person feel uncomfortable and unpleasant. The pain can remain for more than 4 hours unrelated to sexual stimulation; priapism is considered a medical emergency.

It can cause permanent damage to the penis making the patient infertile. Due to the insufficient blood supply, the tissues inside the penis are deprived of oxygen. If the erection continues for a longer period, these tissues are damaged or destroyed. Thus, the tissues of the penis get scarred and fibrosed. This can cause permanent damage to the penis. It can result in erectile dysfunction and may affect the sexual life of the patient.

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Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: April 2, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer


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