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Serkan Deveci, MD
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Michael P O'Leary, MD, MPH
Robert S Hockberger, MD, FACEP
Deputy Editor
Howard Libman, MD, FACP


The term "priapism" is derived from Priapus, the Greek god of fertility, gardening, and lust who is depicted with a massive phallus [1]. Priapism is defined as a persistent erection of the penis or clitoris that is not associated with sexual stimulation or desire. The focus of this topic will be penile priapism. Studies differ on the length of time of erection used to define priapism, but most describe priapism as an erection lasting at least four hours. Priapism has been found to adversely affect quality of life, sexual function, and physical wellness [2].

Priapism is relatively rare but can occur in all age groups and is particularly common in patients with sickle cell disease. It is generally classified as ischemic or nonischemic. Ischemic priapism is a urologic emergency, whereas nonischemic priapism is usually self-limited.

The epidemiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of priapism will be discussed here. Issues related to priapism in sickle cell disease are addressed separately. (See "Priapism and erectile dysfunction in sickle cell disease".)


In a study of emergency department visits between 2006 and 2009 in the United States, there were 32,462 visits for priapism, which corresponded to an incidence of 0.73 per 100,000 men per year [3]. Clitoral priapism occurs less commonly [4].

Priapism can be seen in any age group. However, there is a bimodal peak distribution of incidence, occurring between 5 and 10 years in children and 20 to 50 years in adults [5].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 15, 2017.
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