An erection lasting longer than four hours without sexual stimulation can cause pain and long-term damage, such as scarring and erectile dysfunction. This condition, called priapism, is serious and must be treated immediately to prevent future problems.
In this blog, the doctors at Gulf Coast Urology in Houston and Nassau Bay, Texas, explain why priapism happens and how the condition can be treated.
Erections occur because of blood flow. When a man becomes aroused, the arteries in his penis relax and expand, bringing an increased amount of blood to the area. At the same time, valves in the vein close, which traps the blood in the penis, making it hard and causing an erection.
When arousal is over, the valves in the veins open, allowing blood to flow out and the penis to return to its normal state.
However, an erection can occur with or without sexual stimulation. And if an erection occurs for longer than four hours without sexual stimulation, the condition is called priapism. There are basically two types of the condition: ischemic priapism and nonischemic priapism.
Ischemic priapism is a result of blood becoming trapped in the erection chambers so that it can’t exit the penis. Nonischemic priapism occurs when an injury ruptures an artery, which means the blood flow is not regulated normally. Priapism can happen to males of any age.
There’s no one specific cause for priapism, although about 42% of men with sickle cell anemia develop priapism. People can also have a higher chance of getting it if they use or abuse prescription drugs or use street drugs, such as marijuana or cocaine.
Other potential causes include getting an injury to the spinal cord, an injury to the genital area, carbon monoxide poisoning, and getting bitten by a black widow spider.
If you ever experience priapism, you need to seek medical help immediately. Letting the problem continue for too long can contribute to erectile dysfunction in the future.
Your doctor will first review your medical history and do a thorough physical exam to look for potential causes. This may include an exam of your belly to rule out the possibility of cancer. Other screenings may include blood tests, an ultrasound to show how blood is flowing in your penis, and an arteriogram to show blood flow in your arteries.
The goal of treatment will be to get your erection to stop so you can prevent future problems. Potential treatments could include any of the following:
The treatment you receive will depend on the cause. What’s important, though, is that you get treatment immediately.
To learn more about treating priapism, book an appointment online or over the phone with Gulf Coast Urology today.