How is priapism treated?

Updated: Dec 26, 2019
  • Author: Osama Al-Omar, MD, MBA, FACS, FEBU; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Answer

Appropriate treatment of priapism varies, depending on whether the patient has low-flow or high-flow priapism. Most priapism cases are the low-flow ischemic type.

Treatment of low-flow priapism should progress in a stepwise fashion, starting with therapeutic aspiration, with or without irrigation, followed by intracavernous injection of a sympathomimetic agent. Repeated injection of a sympathomimentic agent should be performed before considering surgical intervention. [7] Although all cases of priapism require prompt consultation with a genitourinary medicine specialist, emergency department (ED) personnel who have appropriate training and protocols may begin treatment with saline irrigation and injection. Treatment of high-flow priapism focuses on identification and obliteration of fistulas.

In patients with priapism secondary to other disorders, attempt to treat the underlying condition whenever possible. Treatment for priapism secondary to sickle cell disease includes hydration, alkalization, analgesia, and oxygenation to prevent further sickling. Hypertransfusion and/or exchange transfusions may be required to increase the hemoglobin concentration to higher than 10% and decrease hemoglobin S to less than 30%. In a study of 239 exchange transfusions performed in adult patients with sickle cell disease and major priapism refractory to other medical therapies, Ballas and Lyon reported that none of the patients developed any neurological complications (eg, headache, seizures, neurological deficits, obtundation). [22]

The potential medical and legal pitfalls in the treatment of priapism deserve special attention. Meticulous documentation is essential and helps protect the physician from future litigation by a patient who may be upset by a poor outcome despite appropriate management and careful counseling at the time of treatment.

Prompt treatment and referral to a urologist is strongly encouraged. At least 50% of patients with priapism have persistent impotence, either because of the priapism event or its treatment, and legal liability exposure is higher than that seen in many other urologic diseases.


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