Although men often make jokes about having constant erections, the truth is that an "over-erect" penis - a member that refuses to deflate and creates a painful condition known as priapism - is no laughing matter. Good penis care is one way to avoid priapism, but some men with certain blood disorders may need to take special steps to avoid this condition and should know how to respond if it strikes them.

What is priapism?

Priapism is an erectile disorder; however, whereas most erectile disorders deal with a lack of an erection or firmness in an erection, priapism is quite the opposite: a persistent, uncontrollable erection generally unrelated to sexual arousal, often accompanied by pain which can be quite intense at times. Generally, an erection is considered to cross over into priapism if it lasts for four hours or longer without deflating.

Named after Priapus, the Greek god of fertility (usually depicted with an enormous erect member), priapism can be caused by several factors, including an unfortunate reaction to drugs used to treat erectile dysfunction. Certain blood disorders, especially sickle cell disease and leukemia, also have an association with this problem.

Why is it associated with these disorders?

Most men don't spend a lot of time wondering about the mechanics related to erections; they just know that they enjoy getting one and enjoy even more relieving themselves of one. But the process by which a member becomes erect gives clues as to why certain blood diseases might bring about this state.

As is well known, a man gets an erection as a response to a stimulus: a gentle stroke of the penis, the sight of an attractive person, the smell of pheromones, etc. When the body receives the proper stimulus, the blood vessels in the penis area relax and expand; this allows a greater influx of blood, which rushes in and fills up the spongy tissue in the penis, causing an erection. When an appropriate amount of blood has entered, the connection is blocked so that the blood remains in the penis until after ejaculation (or other loss of stimulation), at which point the blood is allowed to flow back out of the penis and the member returns to its "at rest" flaccid state.

In sickle cell or leukemia, situations can arise in which the blood is impeded from flowing out of the erect penis, causing the priapic state.

Sickle cell

Priapism is estimated to occur in between 29% and 42% of men with sickle cell disease. It is thought that there are two reasons for this high prevalence:

(1) the fact that sickle cell has a tendency to interfere with the production of nitric oxide, which is a crucial factor in opening up blood vessels and allowing blood to flow freely, and

(2) the tendency of the sickle-shaped blood cells to create blockages that also impede blood flow.


Leukemia-related priapism is far less common, occurring in an estimated 5% of men with a leukemic disorder. Blood clots and thickened blood are responsible for the inability of the blood to flow freely out of the erect member.


In addition to extreme pain, a severe case of priapism can have long-ranging consequences, including erectile dysfunction, impotence and physical disfigurement of the penis.

An over-erect penis should be treated seriously, and individuals with sickle cell or leukemia should consult with their doctors to determine what steps to take to prevent priapism and how and when to seek help in the event of an occurrence.

Keeping an eye on priapism goes hand-in-hand with keeping an eye on overall penis health. Regularly using a first rate penis vitamin cream (health professionals recommend Man 1 Man Oil) is an especially good idea. The best creams will contain L-arginine, an ingredient that is helpful in producing the nitric oxide that maintains proper penis blood flow. In addition, the superior cream will include acetyl L-carnitine, a neuroprotective ingredient that is an aid in maintaining penis sensitivity. These ingredients, along with a range of vitamins, play a big role in keeping a penis healthy and lively.