In ancient Rome, Priapos was a god of fertility and sexual pleasure, who was always depicted with a large and constantly erect penis. Therefore, this god’s name became a designation of priapism, an unpleasant and painful erection lasting for hours, which is not associated with sexual arousal.


The situation occurs when the blood flow from the penis is decreased (more common), or when increases the blood flow into the penile tissue. Normally, the erection is caused by congestion and enlargement of the erectile bodies located within the penis and is disappears relatively quickly after the orgasm or when the sexual stimulation ends.


The priapism is relatively rare, it can be caused by certain medications (some antidepressants, antipsychotics, drugs against erectile dysfunction), narcotics (heroin, cocaine) and certain animal poisons. Priapism has been observed in spinal cord injuries and it is more commonly present in diseases with increased blood clotting such as in leukemia and sickle cell anemia.


Priapism belongs among acute conditions in urology. The erection lasts many hours, it is uncomfortable and painful. In addition, prolonged pathological erection can endanger the penile tissue as the penis may suffer from the lack of oxygen. Untreated priapism can lead to a permanent damage of the vascular penile structures and to impotence.


Any male patient with presumed priapism should be examined by a urologist as soon as possible. The diagnosis can be made according to information about the nature and length of the troubles and by physical examination.


The conservative options include cooling the penis down and administration of substances causing local constriction of arteries to reduce the blood inflow to the penis. However, surgical approach is usually more effective, the surgeons try to create connection of the erectile bodies filled with blood with surrounding blood veins, or they cut the capsules of the erectile bodies to decrease the local blood pressure.


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Sources: basic text sources