Priapism (painful erections)
Priapism is a long-lasting painful erection. It can cause permanent damage to your penis if not treated quickly.
Things you can try yourself to reduce a painful erection
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
do not apply ice packs or cold water to your penis – this can make things worse
do not have sex or masturbate – it will not make your erection go away
do not drink alcohol
do not smoke
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E 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 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
- drugs, like cannabis and cocaine
- some medicines for high blood pressure
- other blood disorders, like thalassaemia and leukaemia
- some treatments for erectile dysfunction
Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023