Men who have heard of priapism but have never endured it may find more likely to inspire snickering than empathy. But the fact is that priapism is one of the more serious penis problems a man can encounter, and one that needs to be treated promptly when it occurs.
Back to the Greeks
Priapism refers to a condition in which the penis is kept in a persistent and frequently painful state of erection for an extended period of time – typically four hours or more. The name is a reference to Priapus (or Priapos), a minor fertility god in Greek mythology. As is fitting for a god whose domain was fertility, Priapus was always depicted with a monstrously large penis – and one that was always fully erect and ready to function.
That’s all well and good for a fertility god, but it’s not as much fun as it sounds for a human male. Despite most men’s desire to always be “ready to go,” the fact is that the penis isn’t built to maintain a total engorgement for extended times. Even men who “edge” when they masturbate – that is, masturbate until they almost ejaculate, then stop to let the urge to ejaculate subside, then masturbate again, sometimes repeating for hours – don’t maintain a constant, full erection during their playtime.
So, what happens when a man is struck with priapism? Basically, it depends on whether the priapism is considered ischemic or non-ischemic.
In ischemic priapism, blood flows into the penis, fills the spongy tissue in the organ and causes it to become erect – but then the blood is unable to get out of the penis and allow it to “deflate.” This is the more common form of priapism. A penis suffering from ischemic priapism typically has a very rigid shaft but a glans that is on the soft side. It is also quite painful.
With non-ischemic priapism, trauma to the penis ruptures an artery or vessel, which allows a high flow of blood into the penis, but it does not remain trapped there in the same way as with ischemic priapism. The erections with the non-ischemic form tend to be not as fully rigid and are generally not painful.
In either case, medical attention is advised; although non-ischemic priapism frequently resolves on its own, if it continues for too long a time, it can cause damage. The damage from prolonged ischemic priapism is generally more severe. With the blood trapped in the penis, the tissue loses oxygen and can be damaged or even die. Although there are no hard and fast rules, a general rule of thumb is that the longer a priapic episode lasts, the greater the chances of erectile dysfunction.
While non-ischemic priapism is typically caused by penile trauma, there can be several causes for ischemic priapism. Men with sickle cell anemia are disproportionately prone to it, as the sickle shape of the cells may cause the blockage of blood in the penis. Other blood disorders, such as leukemia or thalassemia, have also been associated with the condition. In addition, a wide range of mediations, alcohol and drug abuse and spinal cord injuries have been associated with an increased risk as well. Whatever the cause, seeking treatment is essential.
Priapism produces its own brand of penis pain, but more typical penile soreness often responds to application of a superior penis health creme (health professionals recommend Man1 Man Oil, which is clinically proven mild and safe for skin). Rich, soothing Shea butter and moisturizing vitamin E work well together to rejuvenate the skin and ease pain. It also helps when the crème contains vitamin C, an important component of collagen, which enhances suppleness and flexibility of penis skin.