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This information provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. The information is NOT a substitute for you visiting your doctor. However, as Medical Science is constantly changing and human error is always possible, the authors, editors, and publisher of this information do not warrant the accuracy or completeness of this information nor are they responsible for omissions or errors as a result of using this information.

What is Priapism?

Priapism is the medical name for a prolonged erection.

Erections that last 1-2 hours can often be brought down by exercise, such as a brisk walk, or a cold bath or compress. If an erection lasts for 3 or 4 hours or more, it is likely to be priapism and medical attention should be sought immediately as the condition can become very painful.

Priapism usually occurs because drug treatment for erection problems has worked too well, but can also happen as a side effect of certain drugs used to treat depression and premature ejaculation. It can also be associated with medical conditions such as sickle-cell anaemia, leukaemia and other conditions such as non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate.

Sometimes, priapism can occur because the blood in the penis is trapped and unable to return to the circulation. It is not necessarily related to sexual stimulation or desire.

If it is not treated, it can lead to scarring and being permanently unable to get an erection (impotence).

Priapism can occur in males of all age groups, including newborn babies.

If you have a painful erection for more than four hours, you should visit your Doctor or Accident & Emergency department. Once a diagnosis is made, it is important to get treatment as soon as possible.

The length of time you have had an erection is important. The doctor will ask you some questions about your medical history, what medication, if any, you are taking and if you are or have taken illegal drugs. They will then physically examine you. The physical examination will reveal a hard penis with a soft glans (the rounded mass of tissue at the end of the penis) .
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Last modified October 2015