How common is priapism in sickle cell disease (SCD)?

Updated: May 12, 2021
  • Author: Joseph E Maakaron, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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Priapism, defined as a sustained, painful, and unwanted erection, is a well-recognized complication of SCD. Priapism tends to occur repeatedly. When it is prolonged, it may lead to impotence.

According to one study, the mean age at which priapism occurs is 12 years, and, by age 20 years, as many as 89% of males with sickle cell disease have experienced one or more episodes of priapism. Priapism can be classified as prolonged if it lasts for more than 3 hours or as stuttering if it lasts for more than a few minutes but less than 3 hours and resolves spontaneously. Stuttering episodes may recur or develop into more prolonged events.

Prolonged priapism is an emergency that requires urologic consultation. Recurrent episodes of priapism can result in fibrosis and impotence, even when adequate treatment is attempted.

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