Erectile dysfunction

Updated 02 March 2017

How does a permanent erection occur?

Priapism is a very serious and painful condition, which causes a prolonged and painful erection that can last from a few hours to a couple of days.


Priapism has been in the news, after a man gave his permanent erection as a reason for killing and eating the body of a woman, thinking it would cure him. The condition is named after the Greek god of Fertitlity, Priapus.

This is a very serious and painful condition, which causes a prolonged and painful erection that can last from a few hours to a couple of days. Contrary to popular belief, this condition has nothing to do with sexual thoughts or activity. The prolonged erection is caused by blood flowing into the penis, but not draining from it, as it normally would.

There is little room for blood to circulate in an erect penis, and eventually the blood becomes stagnant, acidifies and loses the little oxygen still present. When this happens, the red blood cells are even less able to get out of the erect penis.

This condition is usually the result of a particular medication or medical condition. Sometimes penile injections, used to treat impotence, can cause priapism. This usually happens when a man increases the dosage by his own decision. Certain psychiatric medications can also cause priapism.

People with sickle-cell anaemia and leukaemia also often suffer from this condition. Anticoagulants, cocaine, corticosteroids, marijuana, prazosin, tolbutamide and trazodone are all substances associated with priapism.

Pripaism can scar the penis, if left untreated for more than a few hours. As it is so painful, most people seek medical help fairly quickly. Two main treatments are used for this condition – the first involves draining the blood from the side of the penis with a needle, and the second medication that help to shrink the blood vessels and thus help the blood to flow from the penis.


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Erectile Dysfunction Expert

Dr Kenny du Toit is a urologist practicing in Rondebosch, Cape Town. He is also consultant at Tygerberg hospital, where he is a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University. He is a member of the South African Urological Association, Colleges of Medicine South Africa and Société Internationale d’Urologie. Board registered with both the HPCSA (Health professions council of South Africa) and GMC (General medical council UK). He has a keen interest in oncology, kidney stones and erectile dysfunction.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules