Priapism is a term used to describe a painful, long-lasting erection. It was named after the Greek fertility god Priapus, who was almost always portrayed with a prominent erection. Priapism can last anywhere from several hours to days, but, as the popular television commercial also points out, if you experience an erection that lasts longer than four hours, you should seek immediate medical assistance!
Although priapism was once thought only to affect men, we now know that women can suffer from priapism as well. Often called clitoral priapism, the condition causes a woman’s clitoris to become quite painful and enlarged. Some physicians consider this to be similar to PSAS, and priapism is sometimes considered the male equivalent of PSAS.
For both men and women, priapism can occur without any sexual stimulation or desire, and it does not simply go away on its own. It requires immediate medical assistance. Although embarrassment might cause some not to seek treatment, the fact is that many emergency-room doctors have seen priapism and are well aware of the urgent need for intervention.
Treatment for priapism can vary. In some cases, medications such as pseudoephedrine can be effective, but in others, emergency-room doctors must draw blood from the engorged penis with a needle. (Local anesthesia is often involved, and the procedure is made as painless as possible for the patient.) If this is not effective, then a shunt is inserted into the penis to help draw the blood from the penis and reverse the blood flow back into the body. For women, the treatment might be less invasive and can include a combination of anti-inflammatory medications, pain relievers, and ice packs.
There are many potential causes for priapism. People who suffer from sickle cell anemia seem to be at a higher risk for priapism than others, as can people who have leukemia or neurologic disorders. There also seems to be a link between erectile-dysfunction medication and priapism, as this can cause a rush of blood flow to the penis that might be overwhelming to the body. This is particularly true if these drugs are used recreationally or by men who have healthy blood flow to the penis already, which is why you should take erectile-dysfunction medications only if they are prescribed to you by your doctor. Other erectile-dysfunction treatments (such as penile injections) have also been linked to priapism, as have certain antidepressants.
Priapism must be treated quickly. The most important thing to understand is that priapism can have long-term effects if it goes untreated. This can include damage to the penis and erectile tissue, as well as penile scarring and impotence. Since clitoral priapism is still in its early stages of research, it is not as well understood as erectile priapism; however, the pain and discomfort associated with this condition often requires immediate medical assistance as well.
Although you may find priapism embarrassing, it can lead to serious complications and should not be ignored. It is also important to understand that since priapism happens without sexual stimulation or enjoyment of any sort, it is not merely a sexual state that will resolve on its own but a medical condition that needs treatment. Thankfully, a visit to the emergency room is often all that is needed to resolve this condition.