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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

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 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:

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023