Unintended Consequences: A Review of Pharmacologically-Induced Priapism

Sex Med Rev. 2019 Apr;7(2):283-292. doi: 10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.09.002. Epub 2018 Nov 28.


Background: Priapism has been linked to many commonly prescribed medications, as well as recreational drugs and toxins. Although the incidence of priapism as a result of medication is small, the increasing use of antidepressants, antipsychotics, and recreational drugs may lead to more cases of pharmacologically-induced priapism in the future.

Aim: To provide a comprehensive, up-to-date review of the most common causes of pharmacologically induced priapism and discuss incidence, pathophysiology, and basic management strategies.

Methods: A review of the available literature from 1960 to 2018 was performed using PubMed with regards to pharmacologically induced priapism.

Main outcome measure: We reviewed publications that outlined incidence, pathophysiology, and management strategies for various pharmacologic causes of priapism: antidepressants, antipsychotics, antihypertensives, methylphenidate, cocaine, heparin, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, propofol, spider bites, and other miscellaneous causes.

Results: An understanding of the pathophysiology behind common pharmacologic causes of priapism can assist in the development of better treatment strategies and prevent future episodes of priapism. By understanding the potential risks associated with the use of medications with α-blocking or sympathomimetic properties, physicians can reduce the likelihood of priapism in their patients, especially those with other medical conditions that put them at increased baseline risk. Early corporal aspiration and injection of phenylephrine reduces additional complications related to priapism. In select patients, early placement of a penile prosthesis may prevent further morbidity.

Conclusion: By developing a greater understanding of common pharmacologic causes of priapism, physicians can promptly identify and manage symptoms, leading to decreased patient morbidity. Scherzer ND, Reddy AG, Le TV, Chernobylsky D, Hellstrom WJG. Unintended Consequences: A Review of Pharmacologically-Induced Priapism. Sex Med Rev 2019;7:283-292.

Keywords: Drugs; Erection; Medications; Men’s Health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Priapism / chemically induced*
  • Priapism / epidemiology
  • Priapism / physiopathology
  • Priapism / therapy