Accurate statistics are lacking on how many men are affected by the condition because it is often underreported, but it is estimated that about half of men over 40 in Canada have frequent problems achieving or maintaining an erection. The number of men suffering from erectile dysfunction increases with age, but it is not considered a normal part of aging. The majority of cases can be successfully treated.
Another approach is vacuum therapy. The man inserts his penis into a clear plastic cylinder and uses a pump to force air out of the cylinder. This forms a partial vacuum around the penis, which helps to draw blood into the corpora cavernosa. The man then places a special ring over the base of the penis to trap the blood inside it. The only side effect with this type of treatment is occasional bruising if the vacuum is left on too long.
Vacuum constriction devices may be effective at generating and maintaining erections in many patients with erectile dysfunction and these appear to have a low incidence of side effects. As with intracavernosal injection therapy, there is a significant rate of patient dropout with these devices, and the reasons for this phenomenon are unclear. The devices are difficult for some patients to use, and this is especially so in those with impaired manual dexterity. Also, these devices may impair ejaculation, which can then cause some discomfort. Patients and their partners sometimes are bothered by the lack of spontaneity in sexual relations that may occur with this procedure. The patient is sometimes also bothered by the general discomfort that can occur while using these devices. Partner involvement in training with these devices may be important for successful outcome, especially in regard to establishing a mutually satisfying level of sexual activity.
Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
A lot of the time, the issue is a combination of both. For instance, cortisol – which is an important steroid hormone in the body – is released in greater amounts when we're stressed. It's supposed to briefly shut down non-essential functions like reproduction and fighting off illnesses whilst you deal with the danger at hand. However, the chronic and ongoing stress of modern life increases our background cortisol levels, activating the sympathetic system and stopping an erection.
Measurement of the penile vibration perception threshold provides an inexpensive, reproducible, and painless screening test with acceptable sensitivity for detecting neuropathy. Abnormalities at the level of the sacral cord can be documented by sacral latency testing, while upper motor neuron impotence can be demonstrated with genital-cerebral evoked response testing. These latter procedures are not indicated in unselected patients with impotence.
Heart disease isn't the only risk. ED is also a predictor of stroke, because when the arteries are narrowed there is more chance of a blood clot, which can spread to the brain. It is also a common complication of diabetes. But embarrassment stops people seeking help, says Jackson. "We need to encourage men to talk to their spouses about this problem, instead of making an excuse to avoid sex.
Medications: Many common medicines produce erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include many used to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants. Examples of common medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include propranolol (Inderal) or other beta-blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, digoxin (Lanoxin), amitriptyline (Elavil), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), metoclopramide (Reglan), naproxen, indomethacin (Indocin), lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), verapamil (Calan, Verelan, Isoptin), phenytoin (Dilantin), gemfibrozil (Lopid), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and phentermine. Prostate cancer medications that lower testosterone levels such as leuprolide (Lupron) may affect erectile function. Some chemotherapies such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may affect erectile function.
What to do: Close your eyes and relax. If you're overly nervous, you may have triggered your sympathetic nervous system, the so-called "fight or flight" reaction your body has in intense situations. This can prevent you from having an erection for between five and 15 minutes. So go back to the foreplay stage. Kiss passionately. Caress. Perform oral sex. Don't rush things. Let your instinct take over. Remember; she's a person, just like you.
One thing you need to know. When you are experiencing anxiety, you get a stress response. You can read more about this here. A stress response is what you automatically feel, say, if a fight broke out near you. Your body gets ready to protect itself. During a stress response, blood is diverted away from less important areas to help your heart beat faster.
Depression and anxiety: Psychological factors may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. These factors include stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, widower syndrome, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear of sexual failure (performance anxiety). It is also worth noting that many medications used for treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders may cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems.
Diabetes mellitus: Erectile dysfunction tends to develop 10 to 15 years earlier in diabetic men than among nondiabetic men. The increased risk of erectile dysfunction among men with diabetes mellitus may be due to the earlier onset and greater severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that narrows the arteries and thereby reduces the delivery of blood to the penis. Atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in the penis, as well as the arteries in the pelvis that supply the penile arteries. Diabetes mellitus also causes erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves that go to the penis, much like the effect of diabetes on nerves in other areas of the body (diabetic neuropathy). Diabetes can also affect the muscles in the penis, leading to troubles with erections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, poor control of blood glucose levels, and having diabetes mellitus for a long time further increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in people with diabetes.
However, in contrast, a recent systematic review of published studies, the authors concluded that overall, the addition of testosterone to PDE-5 inhibitors might benefit patients with ED associated with testosterone levels of less than 300 ng/dL (10.4 nmol/L) who failed monotherapy.  A limitation of existing studies are their heterogeneous nature and methodological drawbacks.
It can also help to tell your partner (either before you start or when it happens) that hey, sometimes it takes your penis a while to warm up or sometimes it comes and goes as it pleases — and that they shouldn't take it personally and you won't let it ruin the moment. When it happens, take a few deep breaths, focus on your partner, and go back to doing whatever was feeling good before. "If they approach that with authentic confidence, the partner is usually like 'OK, cool,'" says Skyler. "Remember, you're more than just your penis."
Normal erectile function depends on the release of NO and endothelial-dependent vasodilation of the penile arteries. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis, first described by Dr Montorsi, offers an explanation why men are more likely to develop ED before a myocardial infacrtion. It is believed that atherosclerosis affects all vascular beds equally but smaller arteries are more likely to become occluded than larger arteries.31 32 The penile arteries are 1–2 mm while the coronary arteries are 3–4 mm. Thus, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis is more likely to occlude blood flow in the penile arteries compared with the coronary arteries. The penile arteries therefore serve as a sensitive indicator for subsequent CVD. This theory is supported by the fact that ED occurs approximately 3 years prior to cardiac symptoms in virtually all patients with chronic coronary syndrome whereas patients with acute coronary syndrome have a much lower prevalence of sexual dysfunction.32
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
Other medical therapies under evaluation include ROCK inhibitors and soluble guanyl cyclase activators. Melanocortin receptor agonists are a new set of medications being developed in the field of erectile dysfunction. Their action is on the nervous system rather than the vascular system. PT-141 is a nasal preparation that appears to be effective alone or in combination with PDE5 inhibitors. The main side effects include flushing and nausea. These drugs are currently not approved for commercial use.
It is important to understand that ED is frequently, if not usually, directly related to endothelial dysfunction, and that the release of NO by the vasculature of the penile arteries is directly related to the function of intact, healthy endothelium. In the face of endothelial dysfunction, the process of erection fails to occur in a normal fashion.16
Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date.  Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
Not to give your already stressed-out dude one more thing to worry about, but stress is the cause of 20 percent of all erectile problems, from one-off boner blunders to a lingering inability to get and maintain an erection. Of course, sex difficulties are just the tip of the stress-induced health problem iceberg — sustained stress can also lead to insomnia, stomach troubles, chest pains, anxiety, and more severe health issues in the long term.
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
Along the same vein as stress, relationship troubles may also be at the root of some men’s erectile problems. Not trusting your partner, fears of birth control failure, or just genuinely not being emotionally attached to a partner could make it hard for a man to have an erection, The Huffington Post reported. Talking about issues within a relationship can help to resolve this problem.
Poor sleep patterns can be a contributing factor for erectile dysfunction, Mucher says. One review published in the journal Brain Research emphasized the intricate relationship between the level of sex hormones like testosterone, sexual function, and sleep, noting that testosterone levels increase with improved sleep, and lower levels are associated with sexual dysfunction. Hormone secretion is controlled by the body’s internal clock, and sleep patterns likely help the body determine when to release certain hormones.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.