Priapism Penis Disorder

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

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What are the symptoms of priapism?

Priapism results in a persistent erection. Priapism is usually divided into three categories.

  1. Ischemic priapism is the most common category of priapism. Blood is not able to leave the penis causing the erection. This painful event is considered an emergency if it lasts for more than 4 hours.
  2. Non-ischemic (high-flow) priapism is the second category of priapism, and much less common. In this form, too much blood flows into the penis. The erection tends to be painless and less rigid then the ischemic form.
  3. Suttering priapism is the third category of priapism. In stuttering priapism, the erection occurs repeatedly but is transient in nature.

How is priapism diagnosed?

The diagnosis of priapism is based on history (asking the patient questions) and the physical exam of the genitalia. Once a health care professional has finished this part of the exam a few other tests might be ordered.

  • Measurement of blood gas: By inserting a small needle and removing blood from the penis the doctor will be able to establish the oxygen content and therefore the type of priapism the patient has.
  • Blood tests: Measuring white and red blood cells and platelets will help the health care professional determine why the patient might have a priapism.

What is the treatment for priapism?

The treatment of ischemic priapism includes several modalities and will depend on how long the priapism has been present, and the results of the blood tests. These interventions are performed in a step wise fashion with surgery being the last resort. Unfortunately some of the treatments of priapism can lead to erectile dysfunction in the future.

Treatments for priapism are as follows:

  • Aspiration: Blood is drained from the penis using a 16 or 18 gauge needle and syringe.
  • Medication: A medication that constricts blood vessels that carry blood into the penis (Alpha Adrenergic Sympathomimetic; phenylephrine) is injected into the penis using a small (29 gauge) needle into the corpora cavernosa area of the penis.
  • Surgery: A surgical procedure that reroutes blood can be performed.

Ice to the area around the genitals is sometime utilized. I In severe cases surgical procedures are available.

Non-ischemic priapism is usually not an emergency and will frequently resolve without interventions.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/1/2015
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