What is a prolonged erection?
Sometimes when blood enters the penis it can become trapped, which can cause a prolonged erection. When an erection lasts for more than three hours, it’s called priapism (priy-ah-pism). It’s usually very painful.
Priapism isn’t always related to sexual stimulation, and can be spontaneous. Leaving it untreated can lead to permanent damage to the tissue in the penis, which can make it difficult or impossible to get an erection.
Priapism can happen at any age.
What causes a prolonged erection?
The most common cause of priapism is a side-effect of treatment for erectile dysfunction, particularly penis injections, which are used to help maintain erections.
About a quarter of other cases of priapism are linked to medical conditions, such as advanced cancer or leukaemia.
We don’t always know what causes priapism. Sometimes, it can be caused by damage to the nervous system, injury to the penis, some medicines, and illegal drugs.
What treatments are there?
The sooner priapism is treated, the less the penis risks being damaged. That’s why it’s important to see a doctor straight away.
If you seek treatment within four to six hours, the doctor might give you a medicine to help blood leave the penis so that the erection goes down. Another option is for the doctor to use a needle and syringe to release the extra blood trapped in the penis.
If this doesn’t work, you might need surgery to try to stop permanent damage to the penis.
Penis problems fact sheet