Erectile dysfunction is the inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough to allow penetration of the vagina, and therefore functional sexual intercourse. Generally, the term erectile dysfunction is applied if this occurs frequently (75% of the time) over a significant period if time (several weeks to months). If this is the case, the term impotence may also be used.
An approach to the diagnosis and management of the impotent patient is presented in Figure 187.1. Apparent and likely causes of impotence should be considered first and, if possible, eliminated before the work-up continues. For instance, observing the patient for a few weeks off offending medication may be all that is necessary to establish the cause of impotence. When no obvious or remediable cause is present, the next step is based on the clinical impression of the likelihood of organic versus psychologic impotence. If the latter is considered more likely, it is perfectly reasonable to refer the patient directly for sexual therapy, with the option of reconsidering the diagnosis if, after appropriate therapy, there is no improvement. While an occasional patient with organic impotence will be misrouted, many more with psychogenic impotence will be spared an unnecessary and costly evaluation for organic causes. When organic impotence is likely, a serum testosterone level is the initial screening test for hypogonadism and should be obtained prior to urologic referral. Patients with low testosterone levels require further endocrine evaluations as depicted in Figure 187.1.
The first stem cell study for the treatment of ED was published in 2004. This study used embryonic stem cells to treat ED. At this time, there is a total of 36 published basic studies assessing stem cell therapy for ED, with two clinical trials. The mechanism of action of stem cells is to generate angiogenesis with subsequent increase in cavernosal smooth muscle cells within the corporal bodies.46
While impotence may be the presenting symptom of vascular disease, in neurologic disease impotence generally occurs in the setting of an obvious nervous system disorder, typically in patients known to have spinal cord pathology or neuropathy. Impotent patients should be questioned about decreased genital sensation, which would suggest diabetic, alcoholic, or other forms of neuropathy; weakness, which may accompany multiple sclerosis or spinal cord tumors; and back pain, bowel, and bladder symptoms, which raise concern for cauda equina syndrome. A careful drug history is important in the evaluation of impotence. Drugs that cause impotence (Table 187.3) generally do so by interfering with neurotransmission.
Currently, placement of a penile prosthesis is the most common surgical procedure performed for erectile dysfunction. Penile prosthesis placement is typically reserved for men who have tried and failed (either from efficacy or tolerability) or have contraindications to other forms of therapy including PDE5 inhibitors, intraurethral alprostadil, and injection therapy.
Thanks to over a decade of primetime television commercials, most of us can name at least one drug that treats erectile problems. However, far fewer of us can name drugs that may actually cause the problem. In reality, MedlinePlus reported that there are far more of these, and even common drugs such those to treat depression and heartburn can make it difficult to get an erection.
“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.
Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).
The role of the endothelium in ED has been noted for a number of years and the overlapping of ED and other conditions, especially coronary heart disease, CVD, affecting endothelial function/dysfunction, is clearly present. The endothelial cell is now known to affect vascular tone and impact the process of atherosclerosis, and impacting ED, CVD and peripheral vascular disease.16
Since endothelial dysfunction, CVD and ED are closely associated in epidemiological studies, the question for clinicians is whether to recommend the man presenting with ED undergo a cardiovascular (CV) evaluation. Clearly, based on numerous studies, ED can be considered at least a ‘marker’ for possible further vascular disease or CVD.15 In their report, Vlachopoulos and coworkers make the point that the man presenting with ED, the clinician, is offered an opportunity to attempt to improve the health of the man by addressing lifestyle modification, and consider further vascular evaluation owing to the clear relationship between endothelial dysfunction, ED and CVD.19
Psychological processes such as depression, anxiety, and relationship problems can impair erectile functioning by reducing erotic focus or otherwise reducing awareness of sensory experience. This may lead to inability to initiate or maintain an erection. Etiologic factors for erectile disorders may be categorized as neurogenic, vasculogenic, or psychogenic, but they most commonly appear to derive from problems in all three areas acting in concert.
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.
How’s this for a win-win: The more sex you have, the less likely you are to suffer from erectile dysfunction, according to a 2008 study published in The American Journal of Medicine. Men aged 55-75 who reported having sex less than once per week had twice the incidence of erectile dysfunction (there were 79 cases of ED per 1,000) as men who have sex once a week (32 cases of ED per 1,000). But if you really want to up your odds, shoot for three times per week (only 16 cases of ED per 1,000). Can you really argue with science, or a perscription to have more sex?
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.