Priapism in sickle-cell disease; incidence, risk factors and complications – an international multicentre study


A.B. Adeyoju, Royal Bolton Hospital, Minerva Rd, Farnworth, Bolton BL4 0JR, UK.


Objective  To define the incidence, risk factors and complications of priapism in a large population of patients with sickle-cell anaemia in five centres in the UK and Nigeria, as priapism is common among these patients, but the precise characteristics of the condition in this population are poorly documented.

Patients and methods  A questionnaire was developed and administered to patients with sickle-cell disease. Questions were designed to define the incidence, nature, precipitants, duration, treatment and complications of priapism. A distinction was made between acute (severe) priapism and the recurrent, ‘stuttering’ type.

Results  The questionnaire was completed by 130 patients (mean age 25 years, sd 11, range 4–66) from the five centres; 102 (78%) were homozygous Hb SS genotype, 19 (15%) were Hb SC genotype and two (1.5%) were Hb Sα−thalassaemia. Of the patients, 46 (35%) reported a history of priapism, and of these, 33 (72%) had a history of stuttering priapism, while 24 (52%) had had an acute episode of priapism. The mean age of onset of priapism was 15 years, with 75% of patients having the first episode before their 20th birthday. Sexual activity was the most frequent precipitating factor, with fever and/or dehydration being the next most common. Of the 46 patients, 10 (21%) with a history of priapism reported having erectile dysfunction. A similar proportion reported dissatisfaction with sexual intercourse, including a fear of engaging in sexual activity.

Conclusion  The incidence of priapism among patients with sickle-cell anaemia is high (35%). The implications of priapism for erectile and sexual function are significant and documented in this large series. The treatment of this condition in these patients remains unstandardised. This study highlights the need for an increased awareness of the problems associated with priapism among patients, families and medical professionals.