Our expert says:
Priapism is a prolonged and painful erection that can last from several hours up to a few days. The priapismic erection is NOT associated with sexual thoughts or sexual activity. What happens is that blood flows into the penis, but is unable to drain as it would in a normally flaccid penis. Considering that the penis provides little room for blood to circulate, the blood becomes stagnant after a while, acidifies, and loses oxygen. Without oxygen, the red blood cells become stiff, and even less able to squeeze their way out of the penis.
Very few cases of priapism are without an obvious cause. In most cases, priapism results from one of two things: certain medications or medical conditions. Under the category of medications, there are two primary culprits. For one, penile injections used to treat some forms of impotence can cause priapism; however, this usually only happens when a man decides, on his own, to increase the dosage. Second, psychiatric medications, such as anti-depressants, seem to cause some cases of priapism; however, how these drugs affect priapism is unclear. The second major cause of priapism is certain medical conditions and diseases -- generally, any that cause the blood to thicken, or cause red blood cells to lose their flexibility and mobility. Sickle-cell anemia and leukemia are probably the most common conditions that cause priapism.
Most men will seek treatment for this painful erection before it goes on for too long, usually within four to six hours. This is good since priapism can scar the penis if not treated early enough, and this can lead to impotence. In most cases, treatment involves draining the penis with a needle placed in the side of the penis. Medications that act on the blood vessels can also be injected to help shrink blood vessels and, thus, decrease blood flow into the penis. Sickle-cell anemia patients with priapism are usually treated by blood transfusion.
Interestingly, this condition was named after Priapus, the Greek god of fertility. Statues and pictures of Priapus always showed him to be rather well-endowed and, seemingly, perpetually erect. And, if I remember correctly, there was a rock band that called themselves Priapism....
Dr Elna McIntosh
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