Factors that mediate contraction in the penis include noradrenaline, endothelin-1, neuropeptide Y, prostanoids, angiotensin II, and others not yet identified. Factors that mediate relaxation include acetylcholine, nitric oxide (NO), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, pituitary adenylyl cyclase–activating peptide, calcitonin gene–related peptide, adrenomedullin, adenosine triphosphate, and adenosine prostanoids.
If surgical intervention is an acceptable option, the work-up then proceeds with a noctural penile tumescense (NPT) test, the single most valuable study to establish the diagnosis of organic impotence. The NPT test exploits the fact that males from birth to old age normally have erections during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Psychogenic impotence is associated with normal erections during sleep. In organic impotence there should be no evidence of erection or, if erections are present, they should be limited and poorly sustained.
Some men report being helped by an oral medication called yohimbine, which comes from the bark of a tree that grows in India and Africa. This drug, which needs to be taken every day, has been reported to help about 20 to 25 percent of the men taking it. A relatively new but widely used oral medication called Viagra requires a careful medical evaluation by your doctor.
Many men gain potency by injecting drugs into the penis, causing it to become engorged with blood. Drugs such as papaverine hydrochloride, phentolamine, and alprostadil (marked as Caverject) widen blood vessels. These drugs may create unwanted side effects, however, including persistent erection (known as priapism) and scarring. Nitroglycerin, a muscle relaxant, sometimes can enhance erection when rubbed on the surface of the penis.
Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Chronically high blood sugar levels can result in nerve damage that affects your body’s ability to translate pleasurable sexual stimulation into an erection. Diabetes can also lead to issues with circulation, which reduces blood flow to the penis and makes it more difficult to keep an erection that is hard enough for intercourse.
The male erectile response is a vascular event initiated by neuronal action and maintained by a complex interplay between vascular and neurological events. In its most common form, it is initiated by a central nervous system event that integrates psychogenic stimuli (perception, desire, etc.) and controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of the penis. Sensory stimuli from the penis are important in continuing this process and in initiating a reflex arc that may cause erection under proper circumstances and may help to maintain erection during sexual activity.
For younger men, erection problems usually go hand-in-hand with anxiety. It goes something like this. He fancies you and wants to turn you on. But he’s also worried he might not get, or keep, his erection (particularly if he really likes you and/or if this has been a problem in past relationships). These worries mean that when you try and have sex he doesn’t get hard at all, or loses his erection when he tries to penetrate you.
Your erection problems may be putting a strain on your relationship. You may have stopped touching and cuddling your partner, scared that it could lead to sex - and then to disappointment because you cannot get hard. You may have found it has led to regular arguments. At its worst, erection problems can lead to the breakdown of relationships. So it is vitally important to talk things over with your partner.
“Cardiovascular exercise and weight resistance exercises increase a man’s testosterone, which helps ward off ED,” Gittens says. The problem is, your testosterone levels drop as you age. Your levels now as a 25-year-old will drop about 50 percent by the time you're 75, according to data from the Reviews of Urology. To keep your levels high, check out this testosterone-boosting workout.
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
Associated morbidity may include various other male sexual dysfunctions, such as premature (early) ejaculation and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The NHSLS found that 28.5% of men aged 18-59 years reported premature ejaculation, and 15.8% lacked sexual interest during the past year. An additional 17% reported anxiety about sexual performance, and 8.1% had a lack of pleasure in sex. [51]

Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology
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.
Over the past century, Western culture has become more focused on working, working out, working on this and that, and eating right that so many Americans are stressed and … quite simply … overworked. Stress is a leading cause of erectile dysfunction as it takes away focus. When a man is intent on being intimate with his wife, thoughts of deadlines, paychecks, and bills may creep into his mind. This can lead to difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection, and unfortunately, this only leads to more stress, anxiety, and depression within a marriage.
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Alteration of NO levels is the focus of several approaches to the treatment of ED. Inhibitors of phosphodiesterase, which primarily hydrolyze cGMP type 5, provided the basis for the development of the PDE5 inhibitors. Chen et al administered oral L-arginine and reported subjective improvement in 50 men with ED. [14] These supplements are readily available commercially. Reported adverse effects include nausea, diarrhea, headache, flushing, numbness, and hypotension.
Psychotherapy, marital counseling, or sex therapy may be helpful in treating cases of impotence that have psychological or emotional causes. A range of other treatments exists for cases of impotence that arise from purely physiological causes. These treatments include vacuum devices, penile injections, and penile implants. These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form. This drug works by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that, upon sexual stimulation, is normally released to widen the blood vessels supplying the penis. The increased flow of blood through those vessels into certain tissues in the penis causes an erection. See also sexual dysfunction.
Lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation can contribute to ED. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis particularly vulnerable to ED. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to ED.  Studies indicate that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of ED.
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