Explore 5-Minute Clinical Consult - view these FREE monographs:
-- The first section of this topic is shown below --
- Penile erection that lasts for >4 hours and is unrelated to sexual stimulation or excitement
- Classified into ischemic and nonischemic variants
- Ischemic (low-flow) priapism is painful and requires urgent clinical intervention.
- Stuttering priapism is recurrent ischemic priapism over an extended period.
- Nonischemic (high-flow) priapism is painless, could be related to prior trauma, and does not require urgent treatment.
- System(s) affected: Reproductive
In children, nearly all priapism is caused either by sickle cell anemia or trauma (1).
In the US, one study estimates 1,868–2,960 cases of priapism each year. They also noted an increasing incidence from 1998 to 2006, specifically in those from nonhematologic causes (2):
- Mean age: 33.7 years. There has been an age shift in recent years toward men in their 40s.
- Other studies have found the incidence of priapism to double in men age >40 (2.9 vs. 1.5/100,00 person-years) (3).
- Race: 61.1% black, 30% white, 6.3% Hispanic
- Associations: Sickle cell anemia (41.9%), drug abuse (7.9%), sickle cell trait (2.5%)
- Sickle cell anemia, lifetime risk of ischemic priapism 29–42% (1)
- Avoid dehydration.
- Avoid excessive sexual stimulation.
- Avoid causative drugs (see “Causes”) when possible.
- Avoid genital and pelvic trauma.
- In ischemic priapism, decreased venous outflow results in increased intracavernosal pressure. This leads to erection, decreased arterial inflow, blood stasis, local hypoxia, and acidosis (a compartment syndrome). Eventually, penile tissue necrosis and fibrosis may occur. The exact mechanism is unknown and may involve trapping of erythrocytes in the veins draining the erectile bodies.
- In nonischemic priapism, there is increased arterial flow without decreased venous outflow. There is increased inflow and outflow, which result in a sustained, nonpainful, partially rigid erection.
- Aberrations in the phosphodiesterase (PDE-5A) pathway has been proven in mice to be one mechanism of priapism (4).
- Ischemic priapism:
- Idiopathic, estimated to about 50% (1)
- Intracavernosal injections of vasoactive drugs for erectile dysfunction
- Oral agents for erectile dysfunction
- Pelvic vascular thrombosis
- Prolonged sexual activity
- Sickle cell disease and trait
- Leukemia from infiltration of the corpora
- Other blood dyscrasias (G6PD deficiency, thrombophilia)
- Pelvic hematoma or neoplasia (penis, urethra, bladder, prostate, kidney, rectal)
- Cerebrospinal tumors
- Fabry disease
- Tertiary syphilis
- Total parenteral nutrition, especially 20% lipid infusion (results in hyperviscosity)
- Bladder calculus
- Trauma to penis
- UTIs, especially prostatitis, urethritis, cystitis
- Several drugs suspected as causing priapism (e.g., chlorpromazine, prazosin, cocaine, trazodone, and some corticosteroids); anticoagulants (heparin and Coumadin); phosphodiesterase inhibitors (Viagra, others); testosterone; immunosuppressants (tacrolimus); and antihypertensives (hydralazine, propranolol, guanethidine)
- Intracavernous fat emulsion
- Hyperosmolar IV contrast
- Spinal cord injury
- General or spinal anesthesia
- Heavy alcohol intake or cocaine use
- Nonischemic priapism:
- The most common cause is penile or perineal trauma resulting in a fistula between the cavernous artery and the corpora.
- Rarely, iatrogenic causes for the management of ischemic priapism can result in nonischemic priapism.
- Certain urological surgeries have also resulted in nonischemic priapism.
Commonly Associated Conditions
- Sickle cell anemia or sickle cell trait
- Drug abuse
- G6PD deficiency