The nerves and endothelium of sinusoids and vessels in the penis produce and release transmitters and modulators that control the contractile state of corporal smooth muscles. Although the membrane receptors play an important role, downstream signaling pathways are also important. The RhoA–Rho kinase pathway is involved in the regulation of cavernosal smooth muscle contraction. [12]
While we may think the penis has a mind of it’s own, it’s actually heavily dependent to the brain, and too much stress can interfere with a man’s ability to obtain and hold an erection. According to Healthline, stress can interrupt how your brain sends messages to the penis to allow extra blood flow. Even though a man may want to have sex, too much stress can make this impossible.

Currently, there are no therapies that cure erectile dysfunction. However, a number of effective therapies are available that allow an individual to have an erection when desired. Depending on the cause of the erectile dysfunction, certain therapies may be more effective than others. Although there is limited data on lifestyle modification, intuitively, decreasing risk factors for erectile dysfunction may help prevent progression of disease.
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.
Usually there will not be a specific treatment that will lead to the improvement of erectile dysfunction. However, there are treatments that will allow erections to happen and can be used to allow sexual activity to take place. There are three main types of treatments: non-invasive treatments such as tablet medicines and external devices (e.g. vacuum device); penile injections; or for men who have not had success with other treatments, surgery may be an option.
Experts often treat psychologically based impotence using techniques that decrease anxiety associated with intercourse. The patient's partner can help apply the techniques, which include gradual development of intimacy and stimulation. Such techniques also can help relieve anxiety during treatment of physical impotence. If these simple behavioral methods at home are ineffective, a doctor may refer an individual to a sex counselor.
Endocrine evaluation consisting of a morning serum testosterone is generally indicated. Measurement of serum prolactin may be indicated. A low testosterone level merits repeat measurement together with assessment of luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and prolactin levels. Other tests may be helpful in excluding unrecognized systemic disease and include a complete blood count, urinalysis, creatinine, lipid profile, fasting blood sugar, and thyroid function studies.
Patients receiving penile prostheses should be instructed in the operation of the prosthesis before surgery and again in the postoperative period. The prosthesis usually is not activated until approximately 6 weeks after surgery, so as to allow the edema and pain to subside. The prosthesis is checked in the office before the patient begins to use it.
Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsViagraTake between 30 and 60 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before sex; works for about 4 hoursRecommended dose for most men is 50mgs; after that, dosage may go to as high as 100mg, or as low as 25mg, which may be prescribed for men over 65.Quickly absorbed by the body, less effective after a high-fat meal, and best taken on an empty stomach.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsLevitraTake 1 hour before sex; works for 4 to 5 hours, and may be slightly more effective than ViagraStarting dose for most men is 10mgs a day, but men over 65 often start on the 5mg pill.Can be taken with or without food, although slightly less effective after a high-fat meal.  Avoid anything containing grapefruit juice; it may make side effects worse.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsCialisComes in two forms. The daily pill stays effective in between doses, but may take 4 to 5 days before it begins working. The “weekender” version of Cialis can start working in as little as 30 minutes for men who take the highest dose of the drug (20mgs); it stays effective in the body for up for 36 hours.Daily pill comes in both a 2.5mg and 5mg tablet; most men start with the lower dose. The use-as-needed, “weekender” pill comes in 5, 10 and 20mg strengths; recommended starting dose is 10mg,Can be taken with or without food.   Avoid heavy drinking (5 glasses of wine or 5 shots of whiskey); when combined with Cialis, it can lead to headaches, dizziness, an increase in heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsStaxyn Take 1 hour before sex, although many men report erections in 20 to 30 minutes.  Because Staxyn comes in a sleek black package and is taken as a rapidly dissolving tablet (without water), some men think of it as a more discrete way to treat ED.Comes in 10mg tablets; do not take more than 1 a day.Avoid taking it with any kind of liquid. Should be placed directly on the tongue and allowed to dissolve without chewing.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsStendraPrescribing information now recommends taking it 30 minutes before sex. Some men, however, report results in as little as 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the dose. Because of these findings, Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, the Chesterbrook, Pa., company that has U.S. marketing rights to the drug, has asked the FDA to revise the prescribing information.Starting dose is 100mgs for most men, but the 50mg tablet is recommended for men taking alpha-blocker drugs, like those used for high blood pressure and prostate problems.May be taken with or without food, and with a moderate amount of alcohol (3 drinks).   Drinking more than that can increase the chances of side effects like rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness and headaches.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsPenile injections & the MUSE suppositoryTake 5 to 10 minutes before planning to have sex; erections last for 30 to 60 minutes.MUSE comes in 4 dosage strengths; most men start at 125mgs. Avoid taking more than twice within a 24-hour period.N/A
Defined as experiencing difficulty having an erection at least 50 percent of the time, about 30 million men in the U.S. suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), according to the National Institutes of Health. So, if odds are pretty good you’ll experience a failure to launch at some point in your life, take solace in this finding from the University of Adelaide: You can reverse ED by focusing on lifestyle factors, not just popping a blue pill.

#6 It’s performance anxiety. Many men suffer from performance anxiety, and that’s another reason you can’t get hard. Simply put, you’re too nervous to get your dick up. And that’s okay, it happens! This is likely to happen if you haven’t had sex in a while or if you’re starting up with a new partner. Sex is supposed to be fun, but worrying over your prowess between the sheets can make sex the exact opposite of what’s it’s supposed to be. [Read: 13 ways to overcome sexual anxiety and perform]

To a significant degree, the public, particularly older men, is conditioned to accept erectile dysfunction as a condition of progressive aging for which little can be done. In addition, there is considerable inaccurate public information regarding sexual function and dysfunction. Often, this is in the form of advertisements in which enticing promises are made, and patients then become even more demoralized when promised benefits fail to materialize. Accurate information on sexual function and the management of dysfunction must be provided to affected men and their partners. They also must be encouraged to seek professional help, and providers must be aware of the embarrassment and/or discouragement that may often be reasons why men with erectile dysfunction avoid seeking appropriate treatment.


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The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.
Surgical intervention for a number of conditions may remove anatomical structures necessary to erection, damage nerves, or impair blood supply. Erectile dysfunction is a common complication of treatments for prostate cancer, including prostatectomy and destruction of the prostate by external beam radiation, although the prostate gland itself is not necessary to achieve an erection. As far as inguinal hernia surgery is concerned, in most cases, and in the absence of postoperative complications, the operative repair can lead to a recovery of the sexual life of patients with preoperative sexual dysfunction, while, in most cases, it does not affect patients with a preoperative normal sexual life.[11]
Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy may be useful for some patients with erectile dysfunction without obvious organic cause, and for their partners. These may also be used as an adjunct to other therapies directed at the treatment of organic erectile dysfunction. Outcome data from such therapy, however, have not been well-documented or quantified, and additional studies along these lines are indicated.

The common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).

A number of herbs have been promoted for treating impotence. The most widely touted herbs for this purpose are Coryanthe yohimbe (available by prescription as yohimbine, with the trade name Yocon) and gingko (Gingko biloba), although neither has been conclusively shown to help the condition in controlled studies. In addition, gingko carries some risk of abnormal blood clotting and should be avoided by men taking blood thinners such as coumadin. Other herbs promoted for treating impotence include true unicorn root (Aletrius farinosa), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus). Strychnos Nux vomica has been recommended, especially when impotence is caused by excessive alcohol, cigarettes, or dietary indiscretions, but it can be very toxic if taken improperly, so it should be used only under the strict supervision of a physician trained in its use.
Acetylcholine released by the parasympathetic nerves is thought to act primarily on endothelial cells to release a second nonadrenergic-noncholinergic carrier of the signal that relaxes the trabecular smooth muscle. Nitric oxide released by the endothelial cells, and possibly also of neural origin, is currently thought to be the leading of several candidates as this nonadrenergic-noncholinergic transmitter; but this has not yet been conclusively demonstrated to the exclusion of other potentially important substances (e.g., vasoactive intestinal polypeptide). The relaxing effect of nitric oxide on the trabecular smooth muscle may be mediated through its stimulation of guanylate cyclase and the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which would then function as a second messenger in this system.
The association of CVD and ED was noted in 1997 as one analysed the results of the MMAS. In this landmark study, 1709 men aged 40–70 years were enrolled between 1987 and 1989. A follow-up some 10 years later revealed a striking relationship between ED and CVD. In this study, it became clear that the risk factors for ED were very similar to those of CVD, such as diabetes mellitus, smoking and dyslipidaemia.18
Psychological causes include depression, stress and anxiety. Men sometimes worry about getting a new sexual partner pregnant so do make sure you mention contraception. If the relationship is relatively new your partner might be nervous about ‘performing’. If they don’t manage to get an erection, this can add to the tension and pressure the next time and further compound the issue.
Arterial revascularization procedures have a very limited role (e.g., in congenital or traumatic vascular abnormality) and probably should be restricted to the clinical investigation setting in medical centers with experienced personnel. All patients who are considered for vascular surgical therapy need to have appropriate preoperative evaluation, which may include dynamic infusion pharmaco-cavernosometry and cavernosography (DICC), duplex ultrasonography, and possibly arteriography. The indications for and interpretations of these diagnostic procedures are incompletely standardized; therefore, difficulties persist with using these techniques to predict and assess the success of surgical therapy, and further investigation to clarify their value and role in this regard is indicated.

Years ago, the standard treatment for impotence was an implantable penile prosthesis or long-term psychotherapy. Although physical causes are now more readily diagnosed and treated, individual or marital counseling is still an effective treatment for impotence when emotional factors play a role. Fortunately, other approaches are now available to treat the physical causes of impotence.
The health care provider will ask about the firmness and duration of erections at different times (e.g., sex with partners, erections after sleep). Discussing sexual dysfunction with a health care provider is very important because many conditions causing it can be successfully treated. If a man has no diseases that cause ED and can have an erection with masturbation or early morning awakening, he likely has ED due to psychological causes.
In this study, ED proceeded CVD in almost 70% of cases. Similarly, many men with ED have been found to have pre-existing CVD. A study by Vlachopoulos et al evaluated the incidence of asymptomatic CVD in 50 men with ED.22 These authors found that 19% of men with ED had asymptomatic CVD. Similarly, Mulhall and colleagues found that 20% of men presenting with ED and vascular insufficiency on penile duplex had asymptomatic CVD.23
It is important that physicians and other health care providers treating patients for chronic conditions periodically inquire into the sexual functioning of their patients and be prepared to offer counsel for those who experience erectile difficulties. Lack of sexual knowledge and anxiety about sexual performance are common contributing factors to erectile dysfunction. Education and reassurance may be helpful in preventing the cascade into serious erectile failure in individuals who experience minor erectile difficulty due to medications or common changes in erectile functioning associated with chronic illnesses or with aging.

Cavernosography measurement of the vascular pressure in the corpus cavernosum. Saline is infused under pressure into the corpus cavernosum with a butterfly needle, and the flow rate needed to maintain an erection indicates the degree of venous leakage. The leaking veins responsible may be visualized by infusing a mixture of saline and x-ray contrast medium and performing a cavernosogram.[20] In Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA), the images are acquired digitally.
An initial approach to medical therapy should consider reversible medical problems that may contribute to erectile dysfunction. Included in this should be assessment of the possibility of medication-induced erectile dysfunction with consideration for reduction of polypharmacy and/or substitution of medications with lower probability of inducing erectile dysfunction.
If you are taking medications (alpha-blockers) for problems with an enlarged prostate, you should discuss your prostate medications with your doctor. Alpha-blockers also can cause lowering of the blood pressure. Thus your doctor will need to carefully watch your blood pressure when you start the PDE5 inhibitor. Common alpha-blockers include doxazosin (Cardura), terazosin (Hytrin), and tamsulosin (Flomax).

Psychosocial factors are important in all forms of erectile dysfunction. Careful attention to these issues and attempts to relieve sexual anxieties should be a part of the therapeutic intervention for all patients with erectile dysfunction. Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy alone may be helpful for some patients in whom no organic cause of erectile dysfunction is detected. Patients who refuse medical and surgical interventions also may be helped by such counseling. After appropriate evaluation to detect and treat coexistent problems such as issues related to the loss of a partner, dysfunctional relationships, psychotic disorders, or alcohol and drug abuse, psychological treatment focuses on decreasing performance anxiety and distractions and on increasing a couple's intimacy and ability to communicate about sex. Education concerning the factors that create normal sexual response and erectile dysfunction can help a couple cope with sexual difficulties. Working with the sexual partner is useful in improving the outcome of therapy. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy have been reported to relieve depression and anxiety as well as to improve sexual function. However, outcome data of psychological and behavioral therapy have not been quantified, and evaluation of the success of specific techniques used in these treatments is poorly documented. Studies to validate their efficacy are therefore strongly indicated.


Erection dissatisfaction can actually enhance lovemaking. The dark cloud of erection changes has a silver lining. Young couples often have problems because young men become aroused faster than young women. Young men are often all finished before young women have even started to get aroused. Post-50 erection changes slow men’s arousal process so their erotic pace more closely matches women’s. A slower pace allows plenty time for kissing, cuddling, and whole-body massage, all essential to most women’s enjoyment of sex. Seen in this light, for many older couples, erection dissatisfaction can be a gift.
"Data shows the longer you ride, the higher your chance of developing ED in terms of distance per week," Gittens says. If you cycle for exercise or socialization, you don't have to necessarily give it up, just make some modifications. Gittens suggests riding for shorter distances, giving yourself a rest every once in a while, finding a comfortable seat, and getting a bike that’s sized appropriately.
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Achieving an erection is a complicated process, requiring transmission of sensations from the genital area to the nervous system and the return of nervous impulses to the muscles and blood vessels of the penis. Anything that interferes with this interchange, such as disease or injury of the blood vessels, muscles, or nerves, can make achieving and maintaining an erection difficult. Psychological factors, such as anxiety and depression, can also interfere with erectile function. Anxiety and depression may also develop as a consequence of impotence.


Vardenafil and tadalafil belong to the same group of chemical compounds as sildenafil, namely phos-phodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. Some men cannot benefit from sildenafil or the two newer PDE-5 inhibitors because they have low levels of nitric oxide. British investigators reported in late 2002 that three different types of compounds are being studied as possible medications for men with low levels of nitric oxide. They are Rho-kinase inhibitors, soluble guanylate cyclase activators, and nitric oxide-releasing PDE-5 inhibitors.
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.
To start with, ED is NOT in your head. You can’t simply will yourself to get an erection, no matter how much you try. Studies show over 80% of ED cases are caused by a treatable physical disorder. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common causes. Even a perfectly healthy man can develop ED after a brain or spinal cord injury. ED can be a side effect of certain medications, too.  Read more on our Causes of ED page.
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