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Epidemiology and treatment of priapism in sickle cell disease.

Ischemic priapism is a common but underrecognized morbidity affecting about 33% of adult men with sickle cell disease (SCD). The onset of priapism occurs in the prepubertal period and tends to be recurrent with increasing age. Significantly, priapism is associated with an unrecognized high burden of mental duress and sexual dysfunctions. The diagnosis of priapism is clinical. Many episodes of priapism will resolve spontaneously, but when an episode lasts longer than 4 hours, the episode is considered a urologic emergency requiring quick intervention with either corporal aspiration or shunt surgery. Only 3 randomized clinical trials (stilbesterol, ephedrine or etilefrine, and sildenafil) have been conducted for secondary priapism prevention in SCD. All 3 trials were limited with small sample sizes, selection biases, and inconclusive results after completion. The current molecular understanding of the pathobiology of priapism suggests a relative nitric oxide (NO) deficiency secondary to chronic hemolysis in SCD and associated phosphodiesterase type 5 dysregulation. We posit an increase in NO levels will restore the normal homeostatic relationship between voluntary erection and detumescence. Currently, 2 randomized phase 2 trials (1 double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and 1 open-label, single-arm intervention) are being conducted for secondary priapism prevention in men at high risk for recurrent priapism (NCT03938454 and NCT05142254). We review the epidemiology and pathobiology of priapism, along with mechanistic therapeutic approaches for secondary prevention of priapism in SCD.

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