In men of all ages, erectile failure may diminish willingness to initiate sexual relationships because of fear of inadequate sexual performance or rejection. Because males, especially older males, are particularly sensitive to the social support of intimate relationships, withdrawal from these relationships because of such fears may have a negative effect on their overall health.

As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
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.

The availability of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, and avanafil—has fundamentally altered the medical management of ED. In addition, direct-to-consumer marketing of these agents over the last 15 years has increased the general public’s awareness of ED as a medical condition with underlying causes and effective treatments.
Erectile dysfunction can have so many long-lasting effects that the inability to achieve an erection is almost the least of them. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction often suffer from self-esteem concerns, and these can then translate into issues regarding sexual relationships, friendships, and even work-related relationships. As things begin to spiral out of control, men dealing with erectile dysfunction may go on to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems that further inhibit relationship and sexual intimacy. So what is it that’s causing this mess?
Under normal circumstances, when a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends a message down the spinal cord and into the nerves of the penis. The nerve endings in the penis release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that signal the corpora cavernosa (the two spongy rods of tissue that span the length of the penis) to relax and fill with blood. As they expand, the corpora cavernosa close off other veins that would normally drain blood from the penis. As the penis becomes engorged with blood, it enlarges and stiffens, causing an erection. Problems with blood vessels, nerves, or tissues of the penis can interfere with an erection.
Some may use alcohol as a way to get into the mood and overcome some of the nerves associated with having sex, but too much of a good thing can actually backfire. In fact, having a long history of alcohol abuse may lead to long-term erectile dysfunction. As many as 70 percent of men with chronic erectile dysfunction also have a history of alcohol abuse.
Impotence is a common problem among men and is characterized by the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse or the inability to achieve ejaculation, or both. Erectile dysfunction can vary. It can involve a total inability to achieve an erection or ejaculation, an inconsistent ability to do so, or a tendency to sustain only very brief erections.

Exercise and lifestyle modifications may improve erectile function. Weight loss may help by decreasing inflammation, increasing testosterone, and improving self-esteem. Patients should be educated to increase activity, reduce weight, and stop smoking, as these efforts can improve or restore erectile function in men without comorbidities. Precise glycemic control in diabetic patients and pharmacologic treatment of hypertension may be important in preventing or reducing sexual dysfunction. [49]


In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.
×