Multisystem damage associated with tricorporal priapism in sickle cell disease

J. Randolph Sharpsteen, Darleen Powars, Cage Johnson, Zora R. Rogers, W. Donald Williams, Ralph J. Posch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


purpose: Priapism is an uncommon but debilitating complication of sickle cell disease (SCD). Recent observations among adult males regarding the abysmal failure of medical and surgical therapy encouraged us to review our 25-year experience identifying the prognostic features that might determine outcome. patients and methods: As part of a prospective 25-year longitudinal demographic and clinical cohort study, a subset of 38 (8.2%) patients with priapism were identified among a cohort of 461 men with SCD. The patients with priapism were compared with the nonaffected men with respect to severity of disease expression, hematologic status, β globin gene haplotype, and the incidence of sickle-related major organ failure. The influence of the treatment modalities on outcome was also evaluated. results: Priapism occurred as a single episode in 24 patients, and in 14 as temporally clustered repeat episodes. Eighty-seven percent of those with priapism had sickle cell anemia (SS), an increased risk as compared with other variants of SCD (p = < 0.05). There were two distinct agerelated patterns of disease expression. Eight patients were prepubertal; they experienced shorter episodes, involvement of the corpora cavernosa only, few recurrent episodes, and a good prognosis for future erectile function. Nonsurgical therapy in children was associated with excellent results. In contrast, the 29 postpubertal adults often had involvement of the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosa (tricorporal disease) and half had prolonged episodes that lasted longer than 8 days. One pubescent patient had repeated episodes and became impotent Prolonged or repeated episodes eventuated in impotence in 56%. Surgical intervention was not beneficial Sickle cell-related organ failure such as stroke, chronic restrictive lung disease, chronic renal failure, and nonhealing leg ulcers was observed more frequently in men who had priapism. Death occurred in nine adult patients (25%) within 5 years of the first episode of priapism. conclusion: Priapism in adult males identifies those at high risk for other sickle cell-related organ failure syndromes and, as such, is another complication indicative of severe disease. The dismal prognosis in SS adults requires better understanding of the precise pathophysiology of low-flow tricorporal priapism. Clarification of the mechanisms inducing the priapic state should lead to specific therapeutic maneuvers and an improved prognosis for this disabling condition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-295
Number of pages7
JournalThe American Journal of Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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