Priapism: Prolonged erection

Priapism is a prolonged erection of the penis. The unwanted, persistent erection isn't caused by sexual stimulation or arousal, and priapism is usually painful.

Priapism is an uncommon condition that needs immediate medical attention. Prompt treatment for priapism is usually needed to prevent tissue damage that could result in the inability to get or maintain an erection (erectile dysfunction).

Priapism is most common between ages 5 and 10 in boys and ages 20 and 50 in men.

Symptoms Causes Complications Prevention

Priapism causes abnormally persistent erections not related to sexual stimulation. Priapism symptoms may vary depending on the type of priapism. There are two main types: ischemic and nonischemic priapism.

Ischemic priapism

Ischemic, also called low-flow, priapism is the result of blood not being able to leave the penis. It's the more common type of priapism. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Unwanted erection lasting more than four hours
  • Unwanted erection off and on for several hours (stuttering priapism)
  • Rigid penile shaft, but usually soft tip of penis (glans)
  • Usually painful or tender penis

Nonischemic priapism

Nonischemic, or high-flow, priapism occurs when too much blood flows into the penis. Nonischemic priapism is usually painless. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Unwanted erection lasting at least four hours
  • Erect but not rigid penile shaft

When to see a doctor

If you have an erection lasting longer than four hours, go to the emergency room. If you experience a painful, persistent erection that resolves on its own in less than four hours, see your doctor. You may need treatment to prevent further episodes.

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