You may get excited if you have an erection. But erection that lasts for more than 4 hours is absolutely not normal and usually painful. If this is the case, then it can cause priapism. Priapism happens when there is improper blood flow, and this can occur to men of all ages, even newborns.

If the blood remains trapped in the penis, it can cause serious and permanent damage to the tissues. Here are several types of priapism:

  • Low-flow priapism, also called ischemic, happens when the blood is trapped in the penis after an erection. This is the most common type of priapism.
  • High-flow priapism also called as non-ischemic happens if the blood flow in the penis is improperly regulated.
  • Recurrent also called stuttering priapism, is usually experienced by men who are suffering from sickle cell anemia. This type of priapism is rare.

If you have prolonged erection, such as if it lasts for more than 4 hours, it means that you have priapism. But symptoms may vary depending on the type of priapism you are suffering. Usually, the symptoms include:

  • Prolonged erection becomes painful
  • The tip of the penis stays soft, while the rest remains erect
  • Erection is not painful for non-ischemic priapism

Causes of Priapism

There are many reasons why men suffer from priapism, including:


injecting a banana representing penis

There are certain types of medicines that can cause priapism if used or misused. Drugs such as chlorpromazine and trazodone that treats depression and mental illness respectively may cause priapism. Some shots or pills for treating erectile dysfunction may also cause the same.

Recreation drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, marijuana, and ecstasy may also result in priapism. Some medicines can have detrimental effects on the nerves of your penis. These nerves are usually the cause of the widening of the arteries responsible for supplying the blood to the penis, making it erect and engorged.

Sickle cell anemia

Several studies show that around 42 percent of men who are suffering from sickle cell anemia will most likely experience priapism at some point in their lives. This disease is considered as an inherited form of anemia, whereby red blood cells are not enough to provide adequate oxygen throughout your body.

People with sickle cell anemia usually have sticky and rigid red blood cells. The cells are shaped liked crescent moons or sickles. Because of the irregular shape of the cells, they get stuck in blood vessels, which affect the flow of the blood, as well as the distribution of oxygen to various parts of your body.


If the penis is injured, the blood can be prevented to circulate and drain from the penis. This can also cause damage to the arteries in the penis. Usually, penile injury is the cause of non-ischemic priapism.

Blood disorders

People suffering from blood disorders such as chronic leukemia, thalassemia, and multiple myeloma, might eventually develop priapism in rare cases.


Some types of cancers, such as if the growth of cancer cells impede the nerve supply or penile artery and cause blockages, might cause priapism in rare cases.

Treatment of Priapism

Priapism may be treated depending on the type and cause of the same. First, the doctor will determine whether priapism is ischemic or non-ischemic. After which, he will evaluate the cause of priapism

If the erection is experienced less than 4 hours, the doctor may prescribe decongestant medications to reduce the blood flow to the penis. This will most likely lessen the erection. The medication might still be effective if the erection lasts at most 6 hours.

Sometimes, medication will not be effective, and the erection will last more than 6 hours. If this happens, here are some of the measures that may be used:

Ice packs

These can be applied directly to the affected area. It can reduce the swelling of the penis, especially in non-ischemic priapism.


The doctor might prescribe a medicine that will make your penis numbed. He will then insert a needle to drain the blood accumulated in the penis. This is usually a quick relief of swelling and pain.


If the above mentioned are not effective, your doctor may require you to undergo surgery. This will allow the normal flow of the blood to the penis.

A shunt may be inserted to allow the excess blood to drain from your penis and to restore the normal circulation of the blood. This is usually ideal for ischemic priapism.

On the other hand, if the artery is damaged or ruptured during surgery, the doctor may tie or ligate it to reduce the flow of the blood. This procedure is mostly done in non-ischemic priapism.


Erection is normal for men, either sexually stimulated or not. But prolonged erection can cause serious and permanent damage to your penis, which will eventually lead to erectile dysfunction much worse mortality.

So if you are experiencing priapism, make sure to seek immediate medical attention. Medications or icepacks may be effective in some cases, but if the symptoms don’t improve, you will most likely be required to undergo surgery.

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