Because adequate arterial supply is critical for erection, any disorder that impairs blood flow may be implicated in the etiology of erectile failure. Most of the medical disorders associated with erectile dysfunction appear to affect the arterial system. Some disorders may interfere with the corporal veno-occlusive mechanism and result in failure to trap blood within the penis, or produce leakage such that an erection cannot be maintained or is easily lost.
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Hypogonadism may be suggested by the patient's general appearance. If testosterone deficiency antedates puberty, as in Klinefelter's syndrome, eunuchoid proportions—defined as an arm span 5 cm or more in excess of height, or a sole-to-pubis length exceeding crown-to-pubis length by more than 2 cm—may be present. In postpubertal males whose testosterone levels are markedly depressed, the secondary sexual characteristics may become atrophic. Testicles less than 4 cm in length or a prostate gland that is smaller than expected may be the only clues on physical examination to a pituitary tumor with secondary hypogonadism.
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.
This process comprises a variety of physical aspects with important psychological and behavioral overtones. In analyzing the material presented and discussed at this conference, this consensus statement addresses issues of male erectile dysfunction, as implied by the term "impotence." However, it should be recognized that desire, orgasmic capability, and ejaculatory capacity may be intact even in the presence of erectile dysfunction or may be deficient to some extent and contribute to the sense of inadequate sexual function.
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.