How Dangerous Is A Priapism?

Priapism is an uncommon condition that, when it does occur, typically affects men in their 30s. It is exemplified by an erection lasts for four hours or more without sexual stimulation. There are two types of priapism: low-flow, or ischemic priapism, which occurs when blood becomes stuck in the erection chamber; and high-flow, or non-ischemic priapism, which is usually caused by a broken artery that prevents proper blood circulation within the penis.

Untreated priapism can result in damage or destruction of penile tissue and permanent erectile dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of priapism?

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’ll have some of the same symptoms as low-flow priapism. The main difference is that pain doesn’t occur with high-flow priapism.

What are the causes of priapism?

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’s a decrease in blood flow and the erection goes away.

With priapism, there’s 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:

About 42 percent of adults who have sickle cell anemia experience priapism at some point in their lives. Priapism can also occur if you take certain prescription medications or abuse alcohol, marijuana, and other illicit drugs.

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How can a doctor diagnose priapism?

Even though both types of priapism have similar symptoms, your doctor has to run diagnostic tests to determine whether you have low-flow or high-flow priapism. The treatment options differ depending on the exact type of the condition.

What are treatments for priapism?

Treatment depends on whether you have low-flow or high-flow priapism.

If you have low-flow priapism, your doctor may use a needle and syringe to remove excess blood from your penis. This can relieve pain and stop involuntary erections.

Another treatment method involves injecting medication into your penis. The medication will shrink the blood vessels carrying blood into your penis, and expand the blood vessels carrying blood out of your penis. Increased blood flow can reduce an erection.

If neither of these therapies work, your doctor may recommend surgery to help blood flow through your penis.

If you have high-flow priapism, immediate treatment may not be necessary. This type of priapism often goes away on its own. Your doctor may check your condition before prescribing a treatment. Cold therapy with ice packs can get rid of an involuntary erection. Sometimes, doctors suggest surgery to stop blood flow to the penis, or to repair arteries damaged by an injury to the penis.

When priapism is recurrent, you can also talk to your doctor about taking a decongestant such as phenylephrine to reduce blood flow to the penis. They may also use hormone-blocking medications or medications for erectile dysfunction. If an underlining condition causes priapism, such as sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder or cancers, seek treatment for the underlying problem to correct and prevent future occurrences of priapism.

Outlook for priapism

The outlook for priapism is good if you receive prompt treatment. For the best possible outcome, it’s important that you seek help for prolonged erections. Especially if the problem is persistent, not caused by an injury, and doesn’t respond to ice therapy. If left untreated, you increase the risk of permanent erectile dysfunction.

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