Don’t be shy to discuss priapism with your medical team

Priapism is the term given to an episode when there is sickling in the penis.This is a serious complication and can result in long-term damage to the penis. Many patients or doctors are shy about talking about it….Priapism is a prolonged or unwanted erection of the penis due to sickling of red blood cells in the circulation from the penis. It often occurs in young boys, especially around the early teenage years and It can be incredibly painful and distressing. In sexually active males it can lead to psychological upset when new partners are introduced into a relationship.


There are 2 forms of priapism – stuttering and fulminant. Stuttering priapism occurs for a brief period of time but may recur on a regular basis and can herald the onset of a fulminant attack. It may last just a few minutes to a couple of hours. A fulminant episode tends to be more severe and last much longer. If emergency care is not received it can lead to permanent damage to the organ and eventually impotence.


Priapism should be managed in the same way as any other sickle cell crisis – rest, keep warm and take your pain medication. In addition some patients find the following can help to stop the episode: warm shower or bath, self ejaculation, going to the bathroom before going to bed (as a full bladder can trigger an attack). If it doesn’t settle down with these measures you must go to ED. The doctors in ED will prescribe stronger analgesia and may suggest some other techniques that can stop the priapism, such as physically removing some of the blocked blood from the penis. Rarely, an operation is required. You may be referred to a specialist, a urologist, for follow-up afterwards.

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