Erections occur in response to tactile, olfactory, and visual stimuli. The ability to achieve and maintain a full erection depends not only on the penile portion of the process but also on the status of the peripheral nerves, the integrity of the vascular supply, and biochemical events within the corpora. The autonomic nervous system is involved in erection, orgasm, and tumescence. The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily involved in sustaining and maintaining an erection, which is derived from S2-S4 nerve roots.
It is important to understand that ED is frequently, if not usually, directly related to endothelial dysfunction, and that the release of NO by the vasculature of the penile arteries is directly related to the function of intact, healthy endothelium. In the face of endothelial dysfunction, the process of erection fails to occur in a normal fashion.16
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.
More recent estimates suggest that the number of U.S. men with erectile dysfunction may more likely be near 10-20 million. Inclusion of individuals with partial erectile dysfunction increases the estimate to about 30 million. The majority of these individuals will be older than 65 years of age. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction has been found to be associated with age. A prevalence of about 5 percent is observed at age 40, increasing to 15-25 percent at age 65 and older. One-third of older men receiving medical care at a Department of Veterans' Affairs ambulatory clinic admitted to problems with erectile function.
Unfortunately, some patients may have an overly simplified understanding of the role of PDE5 inhibitors in ED management. Such patients may not expect or be willing to undergo a long evaluation and testing process to obtain a better understanding of their sexual problem, and they may be less likely to involve their partner in discussing their sexual relationship with the physician. They may expect to obtain medications through a phone call to their doctor or even over the Internet, with minimal or no physician contact at all.
Total testosterone levels: Health care professionals should obtain a patient's blood samples for total testosterone levels in the early morning (before 8 a.m.) because the testosterone levels go up and down throughout the day. If you have a low testosterone level, a health care professional should check it again to confirm that it is truly low. In some men, a specialized test measuring the active form of testosterone (free or bioavailable testosterone) may be recommended.
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.
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.

Uncooperative boners might be related to low testosterone, which could be caused by anything from being overweight or stressed to having a chronic health condition, says Paduch. And in men who have taken anabolic steroids, it's not uncommon for them to end up suppressing their natural testosterone production. If you abuse it over a long period of time, you can really mess with your natural testosterone levels, as well as your fertility and erectile function, he says.
Diabetes mellitus: Erectile dysfunction tends to develop 10 to 15 years earlier in diabetic men than among nondiabetic men. The increased risk of erectile dysfunction among men with diabetes mellitus may be due to the earlier onset and greater severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that narrows the arteries and thereby reduces the delivery of blood to the penis. Atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in the penis, as well as the arteries in the pelvis that supply the penile arteries. Diabetes mellitus also causes erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves that go to the penis, much like the effect of diabetes on nerves in other areas of the body (diabetic neuropathy). Diabetes can also affect the muscles in the penis, leading to troubles with erections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, poor control of blood glucose levels, and having diabetes mellitus for a long time further increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in people with diabetes.
Parasympathetic input allows erection by relaxation of trabecular smooth muscle and dilation of the helicine arteries of the penis. This leads to expansion of the lacunar spaces and entrapment of blood by compressing venules against the tunica albuginea, a process referred to as the corporal veno-occlusive mechanism. The tunica albuginea must have sufficient stiffness to compress the venules penetrating it so that venous outflow is blocked and sufficient tumescence and rigidity can occur.

The pathogenesis of organic ED is related to dysfunction of the endothelium. Endothelial cells can become injured through a variety of mechanisms, most of which cause oxidative stress on the tissues. Many of these causes of oxidative stress are related to lifestyle issues which lead to hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidaemia (figure 1). Endothelial cell dysfunction results in reduction of endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation as well as increased adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelium. Endothelial cell injury then leads to a variety of sequelae, including ED, other types of vasoconstriction, atherosclerosis and thrombus formation.18
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 between low testosterone and ED is not entirely clear. Although these 2 processes certainly overlap in some instances, they are distinct entities. Some 2-21% of men have both hypogonadism and ED; however, it is unclear to what degree treating the former will improve erectile function. [17] About 35-40% of men with low testosterone see an improvement in their erections with testosterone replacement; however, almost 65% of these men see no improvement. [15]
For example, many men with diabetes mellitus may develop erectile dysfunction during their young and middle adult years. Physicians, diabetes educators, and patients and their families are sometimes unaware of this potential complication. Whatever the causal factors, discomfort of patients and health care providers in discussing sexual issues becomes a barrier to pursuing treatment.

Lindsay Mitchell, ARNP is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and graduated with high honors from South University in Savannah, GA. She has a background in primary care, women’s health and focusing on evidence based practices. She has a strong passion for providing efficient and accessible patient care, along with caring for underserved patient populations. Prior to becoming an ARNP, she worked as a registered nurse in the emergency department in Jacksonville, Fl.
As is true in so many medical conditions, lifestyle modifications, considered first-line therapy, can have a salutary effect in ED management, and men should be encouraged to make the necessary changes to the benefit of their sexual function and to their overall health as well. Despite the benefits of behaviour modification, men presenting with ED want the physician to help with measures that can have an immediate impact.
Treatment. prostatitis or another acute infection affecting the genitalia can cause temporary impotence that clears up in response to antibiotics. The smooth muscle relaxant sildenafil (viagra) was introduced in 1998 as a treatment for organic impotence. Administration of testosterone may be indicated if low levels of this hormone are found in a blood sample. If impotence is organic and does not respond to other therapies, a penile prosthesis can be implanted; this is usually done surgically by a urologist. Other therapies include the use of vacuum tumescence devices and penile injection of pharmacologic agents that cause dilation.
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).

My boyfriend has a hard time getting and staying hard. It's obviously a difficult situation to talk about, but he says he feels pressure when he's with me (versus previous random hookups he wasn't invested in), so he psyches himself out. When we do have sex, I'm almost always really satisfied and I care a lot about him, both things I express in and outside of the bedroom. But the situation seems to be only getting worse. We've stopped having sex during the week because our busy lives mean we don't have an hour or more to devote to sex (which is sometimes what it takes), or we can't have sex at all because of what he's experiencing. I'm afraid this is going to continue to get worse, not only sexually but emotionally in our relationship. How can I help him fix this, and reassure him in the meantime that I care about him and want to support him?
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?
#3 You’re not having enough sex. The more sex you’re having, the less likely you are to suffer from erectile issues. The American Journal of Medicine reports that men who had sex once *or more* a week were less likely to have issues getting and maintaining an erection. So, not having sex is actually one of the reasons you can’t get hard. [Read: 13 ways to have better sex and change the way you make love]
To examine what is known about the demographics, etiology, risk factors, pathophysiology, diagnostic assessment, treatments (both generic and cause-specific), and the understanding of their consequences by the public and the medical community, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Office of Medical Applications of Research of the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging, convened a consensus development conference on male impotence on December 7-9, 1992. After 1 1/2 days of presentations by experts in the relevant fields involved with male sexual dysfunction and erectile impotence or dysfunction, a consensus panel comprised of representatives from urology, geriatrics, medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, psychology, nursing, epidemiology, biostatistics, basic sciences, and the public considered the evidence and developed answers to the questions that follow.

Chronic stress dumps adrenaline in your system multiple times a day. And that can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Chronic stress is like red-lining your car all day long. When you drive 100 mph all the time, something is going to break down. A high-stress environment can actually change the way your brain sends messages to your body. Dumping too much adrenaline into your bloodstream can affect blood flow and severely limit your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
Unfortunately, some patients may have an overly simplified understanding of the role of PDE5 inhibitors in ED management. Such patients may not expect or be willing to undergo a long evaluation and testing process to obtain a better understanding of their sexual problem, and they may be less likely to involve their partner in discussing their sexual relationship with the physician. They may expect to obtain medications through a phone call to their doctor or even over the Internet, with minimal or no physician contact at all.

The history can be useful in distinguishing organic from psychogenic impotence (Table 187.1). The patient with organic impotence describes problems with erection that progress over months to years. At first, the patient will have partial erections or seemingly firm erections that become flaccid during intercourse. With time, total erectile failure ensues. Organic impotence is constant and nonselective, meaning it is not better or worse with any specific partner or any type of stimulation.

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.
Surgery of the penile venous system, generally involving venous ligation, has been reported to be effective in patients who have been demonstrated to have venous leakage. However, the tests necessary to establish this diagnosis have been incompletely validated; therefore, it is difficult to select patients who will have a predictably good outcome. Moreover, decreased effectiveness of this approach has been reported as longer term followups have been obtained. This has tempered enthusiasm for these procedures, which are probably therefore best done in an investigational setting in medical centers by surgeons experienced in these procedures and their evaluation.
If you have unstable heart disease of any kind, heart failure or unstable, what we call angina, contraindication to using the medications. All right? So if you’re in an unstable medical state, these medications are not a good idea. Now, there are relative issues. If you may be taking a blood pressure medicine or a medicine for your prostate which dilates your blood vessel a little bit– you know, the typical ones are what we call the alpha blockers– you may have an additive effect from the medication. But for the most part, the medicines are incredibly safe.
Vascular: Anything that affects the flow of blood to the penis can result in erectile dysfunction. The main culprit tends to be atherosclerosis, the condition that narrows arteries and which can result in poor blood circulation, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Atherosclerosis causes about half the cases of erectile dysfunction in men over 50. Also, the veins through which the blood leaves the penis may not be working properly, allowing the blood to leave too soon.
Christine graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in English Literature. Shortly after she completed a Post Baccalaureate certificate in Pre-health professions and started her journey in healthcare! Christine is currently completing her Master of Science in Health Care Administration at California State University East Bay and will graduate in June of 2018. She has prior experience working and volunteering in various hospital and health care settings including nephrology, post-surgery geriatrics, cardiac electrophysiology, and orthopedics. Christine is excited to be a part of the Lemonaid team and contributing towards their mission of providing accessible health care to all. On her spare time Christine enjoys running, Olympic lifting, and visiting all of the national parks in the United States!
Sildenafil (Viagra) was the first oral phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor approved by the FDA in the United States for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (it is not approved for women). Sildenafil inhibits PDE5, which is an enzyme that destroys cGMP. By inhibiting the destruction of cGMP by PDE5, sildenafil allows cGMP to accumulate. The cGMP in turn prolongs relaxation of the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa. Relaxation of the corpora cavernosa smooth muscle allows blood to flow into the penis resulting in increased engorgement of the penis. In short, sildenafil increases blood flow into the penis and decreases blood flow out of the penis.
Radical prostatectomy for the treatment of prostate cancer poses a significant risk of ED. A number of factors are associated with the chance of preserving erectile function. If both nerves that course on the lateral edges of the prostate can be saved, the chance of maintaining erectile function is reasonable. The odds depend on the age of the patient. Men younger than 60 years have a 75-80% chance of preserving potency, but men older than 70 years have only a 10-15% chance.
We use cookies and similar technologies to improve your browsing experience, personalize content and offers, show targeted ads, analyze traffic, and better understand you. We may share your information with third-party partners for marketing purposes. To learn more and make choices about data use, visit our Advertising Policy and Privacy Policy. By clicking “Accept and Continue” below, (1) you consent to these activities unless and until you withdraw your consent using our rights request form, and (2) you consent to allow your data to be transferred, processed, and stored in the United States.
×