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Alprostadil - intracavernosal

Clinical bottom line

Intraurethral alprostadil works, though there is not a large evidence-base from randomised trials. It is associated with penile pain, and with prolonged erections occasionally. It will not be a first-line treatment choice.


Alprostadil is a prostaglandin that can be used to treat erectile dysfunction. There are different methods of using it, by injection into the penis (intracavernosal), by inserting a pellet into the urethra (transurethral), or by a cream or gel applied to the glans penis (topical). This article looks at intracavernosal application.


Searching was done using PubMed, Medline and the Cochrane Library, up to September 2005. Randomised trials in which alprostadil was compared with placebo were sought. Details of the trials were abstracted and quality scoring done with a 5 point scale. For crossover or partial crossover designs, details of the first phase were used (as a parallel group trial) where possible, and where this was not possible the full crossover data was used.

The outcome sought was patient/partner judgement of satisfactory erections suitable for intercourse, or actual intercourse, at home. Ideally this was on a patient basis, rather than on event basis, which was a secondary outcome. Relative risk and NNT were calculated using standard methods.


Four randomised trials were found, one with a placebo comparison, two comparing intracavernosal with transurethral alprostadil, and one a comparison with sildenafil. The trials were small, and varied in their outcomes, which often included laboratory as well as clinical results.

Table 1: Randomised trials of intracavernosal alprostadil

Quality score
Adverse events
Linet et al. NEJM 1996 334: 873-877
Randomised, double-blind single dose study of various doses of alprostadil or placebo R=1
Men with erectile dysfunction 1 2.5 g (n=57)
2 5 g (n=60)
3 10 g (n=62)
4 20 g (n=58)
5 placebo (n=59)
Penile rigidity estimated clinically or by plethysmography Dose response, with 28% of men with full rigidity at top two doses Five men had prolonged erections, lasting more than four hours in two
Shokeir et al. BJU International 1999 83: 812-815
Saudi Arabia
Randomised comparison of intracavernosal and intraurethral alprostadil, for 3 months at home R=1
Men with mostly organic erectile dysfunction, mean age 55 years 1 20 g IC (n=30)
2 500 g or 1000 g IU (n=30)
Erectile assessment scale and sexual intercourse at home At least one intercourse
1 87%
2 53%
Percent of use leading to intercourse
1 85%
2 55%
Dropout rate
1 67%
2 17%
Urogenital pain
1 47%
2 7%
Shabsigh et al. Urology 2000 55: 109-113
Randomised open label crossover study over six months R=1
Men with erectile dysfunction for six months, mean age 59 years 1 up to 40 g IC
2 up to 1000 g IU
111 initially
95 underwent laboratory tests
68 used treatments at home
Various laboratory and clinical outcomes Patient preference at home was
1 69%
2 16%
At home use - penile pain
1 34%
2 25%
Prolonged erection
1 3%
2 0%
Mancini et al. Int J Impot Res 2004 16: 8-12
Randomised open label crossover study over a month R=1
Men with vasculogenic or nonvasculogenic erectile dysfunction, treated separately, mean age 55-60 years Group size of 10-12 men, treated daily with oral sildenafil 25 mg, 1-3 times weekly with 5-20 g 1-3 times a week, or placebo IIEF scores Sildenafil and alprostadil significantly increased IIEF scores (to 21 with sildenafil), with much greater response than placebo No details


These trials tell us that while intracavernosal alprostadil works, and probably works better than transurethral alprostadil, it is associated with high levels of penile pain, and some prolonged erections.


Intracavernosal injection of alprostadil will not be the first treatment choice for all men with erectile dysfunction. It will be useful for some men in which other treatments do not work.