Priapism (painful erections)
Priapism is a long-lasting, painful erection. It can cause permanent damage to your penis if not treated quickly. Call 999 or go to your nearest emergency department if you have an erection that lasts more than 2 hours.
Things you can try yourself
Priapism may get better on its own within 2 hours.
There are things you can try to reduce your erection.
- try to go for a pee
- have a warm bath or shower
- drink lots of water
- go for a gentle walk
- try exercises, such as squats or running on the spot
- take painkillers like paracetamol if you need to
- apply ice packs or cold water to your penis – this can make things worse
- have sex or masturbate – it won't make your erection go away
- drink alcohol
When to get immediate medical help
You should call 999 or go to your nearest emergency department if you have an erection that lasts more than 2 hours.
An erection that lasts this long needs to be treated in hospital as soon as possible to help avoid permanent damage to the penis.
Hospital treatment for priapism
Treatments to help reduce your erection include:
- tablets or injections directly into your penis
- using a needle to drain blood from your penis, done while the area is numbed under local anaesthetic
- surgery to drain the blood through a tiny cut, done while you're asleep under general anaesthetic
Causes of priapism
Priapism most commonly affects people with sickle cell disease.
Less common causes include:
- blood-thinning medicines, like warfarin
- some antidepressants
- recreational drugs, like cannabis and cocaine
- some medicines for high blood pressure
- other blood disorders, like thalassaemia and leukaemia
- some treatments for erection problems
More useful links
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.