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Emergency Visits for Priapism

Priapism – an erection lasting for several hours – accounted for an estimated 8.05 out of every 100,000 emergency department visits in the United States between 2006 and 2009, according to a recent study.

When a man has an erection, his penis fills with blood. Normally, the blood flows out of his penis after he ejaculates or when sexual excitement stops. But in some cases, the blood does not flow out, resulting in priapism.

The condition can be dangerous because the blood trapped in the penis can become toxic. Some men who have had priapism develop penile tissue damage and erectile dysfunction.

American researchers examined data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample, a database sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They found that 8,738 visits to U.S. emergency rooms involved priapism and used this number to calculate their estimate.

About 21% of these cases also involved sickle cell disease, a common cause of priapism. Other possible causes include leukemia, drug or alcohol abuse, medication side effects, genital injuries, and blood clots.

Approximately 72% of the men were discharged from the emergency room. In these cases, the mean cost of treatment was $1,778 per patient. However, if men were admitted to the hospital, the mean charge was $41,909 per patient.

The study was published online in July in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

If you or your partner have an erection lasting four hours or longer, be sure to seek medical attention immediately.


International Society for Sexual Medicine

“What causes priapism?”

“What is priapism?”

“Why is priapism an emergency?”

The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Stein, Daniel M., MD, MHS, et al.

“Nationwide Emergency Department Visits for Priapism in the United States”

(Full-text. First published online: July 10, 2013)