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.  These supplements are readily available commercially. Reported adverse effects include nausea, diarrhea, headache, flushing, numbness, and hypotension.
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
Several pathways have been described to explain how information travels from the hypothalamus to the sacral autonomic centers. One pathway travels from the dorsomedial hypothalamus through the dorsal and central gray matter, descends to the locus ceruleus, and projects ventrally in the mesencephalic reticular formation. Input from the brain is conveyed through the dorsal spinal columns to the thoracolumbar and sacral autonomic nuclei.
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.
ED means no erections from masturbation. According to the American Urological Association, ED is “the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance.” Huh? That’s absurdly vague. If you define “an erection” as what you see in porn, and “satisfactory sexual performance” as porn sex—instant, hard-as-rock erections that last forever with climaxes always on cue—then just about every guy has ED. What is ED, really? For practical purposes, it means that a man who’s sober (no alcohol or other erection-impairing drugs) cannot raise even a semi-firm erection after extended masturbation.
For the patient whose history suggests organic impotence, further history, physical and laboratory data will help identify the cause. The classification listed in Table 187.2 is based on the pathophysiologic scheme presented above, and includes mechanical problems that can interfere with erection. Vascular disease is the most common cause of impotence. In advanced cases, Lehriche's syndrome of aortoiliac occlusion will be suggested by bilateral thigh or calf claudication, loss of muscle mass in the buttocks and legs, and impotence. However, the majority of patients with vascular impotence have less severe vascular disease and many will have occlusive disease of the hypogastric-cavernous bed only. Even among patients without claudication, vascular disease is still a likely cause of impotence, especially if risk factors for atherosclerosis are present. Nonatherosclerotic disease is a consideration in the patient with a history of trauma or radiation to the pelvis, both of which cause fibrosis of vessels.
Among their findings, the panel concluded that (1) the term "erectile dysfunction" should replace the term "impotence"; (2) the likelihood of erectile dysfunction increases with age but is not an inevitable consequence of aging; (3) embarrassment of patients and reluctance of both patients and health care providers to discuss sexual matters candidly contribute to underdiagnosis of erectile dysfunction; (4) many cases of erectile dysfunction can be successfully managed with appropriately selected therapy; (5) the diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction must be specific and responsive to the individual patient's needs and that compliance as well as the desires and expectations of both the patient and partner are important considerations in selecting appropriate therapy; (6) education of health care providers and the public on aspects of human sexuality, sexual dysfunction, and the availability of successful treatments is essential; and (7) erectile dysfunction is an important public health problem deserving of increased support for basic science investigation and applied research.
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.
Vascular damage may result from radiation therapy to the pelvis and prostate in the treatment of prostate cancer.  Both the blood vessels and the nerves to the penis may be affected. Radiation damage to the crura of the penis, which are highly susceptible to radiation damage, can induce ED. Data indicate that 50% of men undergoing radiation therapy lose erectile function within 5 years after completing therapy; fortunately, some respond to one of the PDE5 inhibitors.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
So not only are erectile problems common, they're nothing for you or your special friend to be freaked out about. Check out the nine most common reasons that dudes sometimes can't get it up, and get ready to become the soothing voice of reason the next time the guy you're with has a hard time pitching his tent in your happy valley. Everything (and every penis) is gonna be fine!
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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.
This penile tumescence monitor is placed at the base and near the corona of the penis. It is connected to a monitor that records a continuous graph depicting the force and duration of erections that occur during sleep. The monitor is strapped to the leg. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is conducted on several nights to obtain an accurate indication of erections that normally occur during the alpha phase of sleep.
But he may have a real problem. Generally, erectile dysfunction is linked to cardiovascular health. If your guy has serious health problems, drinks and smokes too much, or does too many drugs, those conditions may play a role. Obesity, heart disease, prescription medications, and diabetes are just a few of the common risk factors. And then there are the psychological causes: depression, stress, and the million things flashing through his head when he's struggling to get it on.
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.
Dr. Matthew Walvick, D.O. is a board certified Internal Medicine physician. He completed his undergraduate education at UCLA. He received his medical degree from Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Vallejo, California. He completed his Internal Medicine residency at UCSF's Fresno Medical Education Program. Prior to joining Lemonaid Health, Dr. Walvick was a practicing primary care physician at John Muir Health and then doing house calls with the start-up Heal. Dr. Walvick is excited to be a part of the Lemonaid Health team making healthcare refreshingly simple.