What Is Priapism? | Urology Leaders Moorgate Andrology

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What is Priapism?


Priapism is a condition that causes persistent and sometimes painful erections. This is when an erection lasts for four hours or more without sexual stimulation. Priapism is uncommon, but when it occurs, it typically affects males in their 30s.


Low flow or ischemic priapism occurs when blood becomes stuck in the erection chamber. A broken artery that prevents proper circulation of blood in the penis causes high flow, or nonischemic priapism. This could be due to an injury.


An erection that lasts longer than four hours is a medical emergency. The oxygen-deprived blood in your penis can damage tissue in the penis. Untreated priapism can result in damage or destruction of penile tissue and permanent erectile dysfunction. 


What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of this condition vary depending on whether you experience low flow or high flow priapism. If you have low flow priapism, you may experience.


  • Erections lasting for more than four hours
  • Rigid penile shaft with a soft tip
  • Penis pain


Low flow or ischemic priapism can become a recurrent condition. When symptoms begin, involuntary erections may only last for a few minutes or a short length of time. As time moves on, these erections occur more and last longer.


If you have high flow priapism, you will have some of the same symptoms as low flow. The main difference is that pain does not occur with high flow priapism. Any erection lasting more than four hours without sexual stimulation is considered a medical emergency.


What Are The Causes?

A normal penis erection is one that occurs because of physical or physiological stimulation. An increase in blood flow to the penis causes the erection. Once the stimulation ends, there is a decrease in blood flow and the erection goes away. With priapism, there is a problem with blood flow to your penis. Different conditions affect how blood flows in and out of the penis. These disorders and diseases include:


  • Sickle cell anaemia
  • Leukaemia
  • Multiple myeloma 


About 42% of adults who have sickle cell anaemia experience priapism at some point in their lives. It can also occur if you take certain prescription medications or abuse alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs. Prescription medications that may affect blood flow to the penis include:


  • Medications for erectile dysfunction
  • Antidepressants
  • Alpha-blockers
  • Medications for anxiety disorders
  • Blood thinners
  • Hormone therapy
  • Medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Black widow spider bite
  • Metabolism disorder
  • Neurogenic disorder
  • Cancers involving the penis

To learn more about this condition and its treatments, contact your GP.

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