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

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, particularly if you have sickle cell disease

  • 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 3 to 4 hours
  • you have sickle cell disease and a painful erection that lasts for more than 1 hour

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:

Causes of priapism

Priapism often affects people with sickle cell disease.

Other causes include:

Page last reviewed: 5 December 2023
Next review due: 5 December 2026