Despite some of the humorous scenarios suggested by the idea of a long-lasting erection, this condition is no laughing matter, especially when it happens to you.
In fact, an erection that lasts for four hours or more is a serious medical condition known to medical professionals as priapism. Although relatively uncommon, this sort of prolonged erection isn’t caused by sexual stimulation or arousal, according to MayoClinic.com. Making matters worse, a persistent erection of this type is downright painful.
If you find yourself suffering from an unwanted erection that just won’t seem to go away, seek immediate medical attention. Failure to do so could result in permanent damage to penile tissue that could make it impossible for you to achieve and/or maintain an erection when you really want one.
A new ray of hope for priapism sufferers appeared recently in the form of a little blue pill that in animal studies normalized nitric oxide levels in the penile blood of mouse models of priapism.
Unlike that other well-known little blue pill, Viagra, this new medication, dubbed C6 by researchers, helps to wilt unwanted erections. Viagra, of course, is used by men who need a little help to overcome their inability to get and keep an erection strong enough for intercourse.
Role of Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is one of the key players in the erectile process. Feelings of sexual desire in the brain send a flood of nitric oxide into the blood vessels of the penis, dilating them to facilitate an erection.
Urology researchers at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital conducted the animal study into C6’s ability to treat priapism. They published their findings in the January 2014 issue of ¨FASEB Journal,¨ the official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. An online version of the research study’s finding first appeared in late September 2013.
More Study Needed
C6 could turn out to represent an important breakthrough in the treatment of priapism, although the Johns Hopkins study is very preliminary and must be followed up by additional studies, including eventual clinical studies with human subjects, if indicated,
Priapism occurs when something in the normal erectile process goes haywire, according to MayoClinic.com. Under normal conditions, the rush of nitric oxide to penile blood vessels causes them to dilate, which increases blood flow into the erectile tissues of the penis to the point that they become engorged and the penis is erect.
Once stimulation to the penis has ceased, most usually after ejaculation, this extra blood flows back out of the penis, and it becomes flaccid. Priapism occurs when nerves, blood vessels, or the blood itself don’t behave as they should, causing a disruption to normal blood flow.
Two Types of Priapism
Medical professionals identify two primary forms of priapism. Ischemic priapism occurs when something disrupts the normal flow of blood out of the penis, while nonischemic priapism identified a prolonged erection caused by excessive blood flow into the penis.
The causes of priapism include diseases, medications, injuries, and substance abuse that affect blood flow, according to Healthline.com. High on the list of diseases that disrupt normal blood flow are leukemia and sickle cell anemia, both of which have been identified as causes of priapism.
Medications that could conceivably trigger an episode of priapism include antidepressants, such as bupropion and fluoxetine; blood thinners, such as heparin and warfarin; oral and injectable ED drugs, such as sildenafil, tadalafil, vardenafil, and papaverine; and antipsychotic medications, such as olanzapine and risperidone.
Other causes of priapism are trauma or injury to your genitals, pelvis, or perineum (area between the anus and scrotum), as well as excessive alcohol consumption and/or the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine or marijuana. The venom from a black widow spider bite can trigger an episode of priapism, which can also be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning or traumatic injury to the spinal cord.
According to Cleveland Clinic, the primary goal of priapism treatment is to make the erection go away and to protect tissue from permanent damage that could compromise future erectile function.
Although C6 holds promise as a future mode of treatment for priapism, it will be quite some time, if ever, before it’s available to treat the painful disorder in humans. In the meantime, currently available methods of treatment include the application of ice packs to the penis and perineum and the use of alpha-agonist drugs, which can be injected directly into the penis or, less commonly, taken orally. According to WebMD, these drugs cause the blood vessels supplying the penis to narrow, reducing blood flow and thus allowing the erection to subside.
In cases where an artery has been ruptured, physicians tie off the affected artery so that normal blood flow can resume. Other invasive procedures used to treat priapism include aspiration — drawing off excess blood through a needle inserted into the penis — and the surgical insertion of a shunt into the penis to divert blood flow and allow circulation to return to normal.
Although priapism can strike at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in boys between the ages of 5 and 10 and adult men from 20 to 50.
Two Groups of Mice Studied
In explaining the details of their animal study on C6, Johns Hopkins researchers said they analyzed the effects of the substance in two groups of experimental mice.
The first group contained mice in which both endothelial and neuronal nitric oxide synthase had effectively been deactivated. Nitric oxide synthase is a family of enzymes that facilitate the conversion of the amino acid arginine into nitric oxide.
The second group was made up of mice with sickle cell disease. Both groups of mice had abnormalities in nitric oxide signaling that resulted in abnormal erections, including most specifically priapism.
When mice in both groups received treatment with C6, irregularities in their ability to handle nitric oxide were resolved and erectile function returned to near normal.
Another Form of ED
Commenting on the findings of the Johns Hopkins study, Gerald Weissman, M.D., editor-in-chief of FASEB Journal, said that most people fail to recognize that erectile dysfunction is not limited to the inability to achieve and maintain an erection.
¨Priapism is a dangerous and painful form of erectile dysfunction that is overlooked,¨ said Dr. Weissman. ¨Hopefully this compound will be just as effective in people as it was in mice.”
Above and beyond its application as a treatment for priapism, C6 could turn out to be a valuable mode of treatment for other conditions attributed to abnormal nitric oxide signaling or function, according to Gwen Lagoda, a member of the Johns Hopkins research team. ¨Its application may extend beyond erection disorders and include other health conditions involving abnormal circulation and blood flow.”
Don Amerman is a freelance author who writes extensively about a wide array of nutrition and health-related topics.
Photo credit: C.P.Storm
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