Sexual stimulation usually leads to an erection. But persistent erection without such stimulation that lasts for more than 4 hours is called priapism. This condition could be painful, but it is rare. It ordinarily affects men in their 30s.
What are the Kinds of Priapism?
Priapism may either be ischemic or nonischemic. Ischemic priapism or low-flow priapism happens when the blood is trapped in the erection chamber. On the other hand, nonischemic priapism or high-flow priapism occurs when the artery is damaged, which causes improper circulation of the blood in the penis, probably because of an injury.
Priapism is a very serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. If your penis is deprived of oxygen because the blood is not capable of going to or from it, then the tissues in your penis will most likely be damaged. If it remains untreated, it will destroy the penile tissues, which could then lead to permanent erectile dysfunction.
What are the Symptoms of Priapism?
The symptoms may depend upon the kind of priapism you are suffering- ischemic or nonischemic. Ischemic priapism or low-flow priapism may let you experience a prolonged erection that lasts for more than 4 hours though the penile tip is usually left soft. This is typically recurrent and sometimes painful.
You will experience the same symptoms if you are having nonischemic priapism or high-flow priapism. The only difference is that this kind of priapism is usually not painful. And yes, an erection that lasts for longer periods is an emergency.
Causes of Priapism
Erection is usually experienced due to psychological or physical stimulation. This is usually caused by increased blood flow to the penis. Once your penis is no longer stimulated, the blood flow decreases, which make the erection go away.
If the blood flow is not normal, that is the time when you experience priapism. Other health conditions, such as leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and multiple myeloma, also affect your blood flow. A study shows that 42 percent of patients with sickle cell anemia will most likely develop priapism.
Priapism is also due to alcohol or medications and other illegal drugs. Prescription medications for depression, alpha-blockers, blood thinners, hormone therapy, metabolism disorder, neurogenic disorder, erectile dysfunction, cancer of the penis, and many more, may result in priapism.
How is Priapism Diagnosed?
Both types of priapism have the same symptoms. But your doctor will still require you to take tests to know the type of priapism you are experiencing. Of course, the treatment will be different depending on the type of priapism you have.
Your doctor will typically conduct a physical examination. Other tests such as blood gas measurement, blood tests, toxicology tests, and ultrasounds may also be required.
Treatments for Priapism
As already mentioned, the treatment may depend on the type of priapism you are experiencing. If you have ischemic priapism, your doctor can help relieve pain and stop erection by using a syringe and needle to remove blood from the penis.
The doctor may also inject medication directly into your penis, which will help the blood vessels, responsible for carrying blood to the penis, to shrink while the blood vessels responsible for carrying blood from the penis, for expanding.
But if these treatments are not effective, then your doctor will most likely require you to undergo surgery. This will enable the blood to flow properly into and out of your penis.
On the other hand, immediate medical attention is not needed in case of nonischemic priapism. Unlike ischemic priapism, this kind of priapism goes away on its own. The appropriate treatment will only be determined after your doctor has checked your condition.
Involuntary erections may be remedied by applying ice packs in your penis. But there will be cases when your doctor recommends surgery to stop the abnormal flow of the blood to the penis. Furthermore, surgery is needed when the arteries are already damaged due to injury in the penis.
If priapism occurs repeatedly, your doctor may prescribe a decongestant to lessen the flow of the blood to the penis. Medications such as that to block hormones or used for erectile dysfunction can also be used.
If priapism is caused by conditions such as a blood disorder, sickle cell anemia, or cancers, treatment for the latter is needed first to prevent the recurrence of priapism.
Priapism is a rare condition. It is a prolonged erection that could last more than 4 hours. If this happens, you should not take it for granted. Having an erection is normal, but too long erections are not.
Immediate medical attention is needed for low-flow priapism. If this kind of priapism is not given immediate treatment, it can cause permanent erectile dysfunction. So if you don’t want it to happen to you, if you observe unusual erections, you should seek help from an expert right away.
Priapism does not go away on its own if you have low-flow priapism. But it does if you have high-flow priapism. Sometimes, you only need an icepack or a medication to reduce the blood flow in your penis.