In the majority of patients the impotence is organic, though not endocrinologic, and there is no easily remedied cause. These patients require physiologic testing and urologic consultation for specific diagnosis. Likely causes of impotence in this group include vascular and neurologic diseases. These patients are candidates for penile prostheses or, in special cases, for revascularization. Patients interested in surgical approaches should be referred for further testing. There is little to be gained by continuing the work-up of patients who prefer not to have an operation.
The first line and by far the most common treatment today is with the prescription drug sildenafil citrate, sold under the brand name Viagra. An estimated 20 million prescriptions for the pill have been filled since it was approved by the FDA in March 1998. It is also the most effective treatment with a success rate of more than 60%. The drug boosts levels of a substance called cyclic GMP, which is responsible for widening the blood vessels of the penis. In clinical studies, Viagra produced headaches in 16% of men who took it, and other side effects included flushing, indigestion, and stuffy nose.
Me? I'm in my 60's and never had ED, not even once. And never failed to have a good orgasm with sexual activity. Unfortunately, I think it has created too much of a contrast to my wife, who has never had an orgasm, and now in menopause has given up and won't even let me touch her sexually (hugging and kissing is fine, but that's as far as she'll let me go).
When sexually stimulated there is a release of a chemical, nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the corpus cavernosum. The NO stimulates the production of a compound called cGMP, which causes relaxation of the smooth muscle in the blood vessels supplying the corpus cavernosum. PDE 5 is an enzyme that breaks down cGMP. By inhibiting the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5, these medications allow cGMP to build up in the penis. cGMP causes muscles in the corpora cavernosa of the penis to relax. When the muscle is relaxed, more blood can flow into the penis and fill the spaces in the penis. As the penis fills with blood, the veins in the penis are compressed, and this results a hard erection. When the effect on PDE5 decreases, the cGMP levels go down and the muscle in the penis contracts, causing less blood to flow into the penis and allowing the veins to open up and drain blood out of the penis.
What’s important to take away from this is that, because erections can occur throughout the day for no reason, erectile dysfunction can be difficult to diagnose. Some men achieve erections for no reason, yet when provided with stimuli, they aren’t able to. Some men, on the other hand, only get aroused when directly stimulated. This means that healthcare professionals need to take into account many variables prior to diagnosing and treating erectile dysfunction.
A lot of the time, the issue is a combination of both. For instance, cortisol – which is an important steroid hormone in the body – is released in greater amounts when we're stressed. It's supposed to briefly shut down non-essential functions like reproduction and fighting off illnesses whilst you deal with the danger at hand. However, the chronic and ongoing stress of modern life increases our background cortisol levels, activating the sympathetic system and stopping an erection.
Occasional successful sexual function and early morning erections do not preclude the possibility of endocrine dysfunction. Since abnormally low levels of testosterone frequently are the primary cause of impotence, it is recommended that determination of the blood level of testosterone be an integral part of the total evaluation of the impotent patient.
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.  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. 
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.
Instead of the hesitation with which he had accosted the cardinal a quarter of an hour before, there might be read in the eyes of the young king that will against which a struggle might be maintained, and which might be crushed by its own impotence, but which, at least, would preserve, like a wound in the depth of the heart, the remembrance of its defeat.
Fortunately, impotence is usually treatable. A thorough evaluation starting with a history and physical exam is needed to help diagnose the underlying cause. Once the cause of impotence is determined, treatment can be tailored to target that cause and any other contributing factors. Treatments used for impotence may include medications, vacuum devices, surgery, and psychotherapy.
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.
Kimberly Hildebrant, ARNP is a board certified Family Nurse practitioner. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Pittsburgh and a Masters in Nursing from Duquesne University. She has practiced as a nurse practitioner in the field of Infectious Disease as well as HIV for 4 years. She has over 13 years of experience as a critical care nurse. Kimberly is passionate about providing affordable healthcare to all individuals to ensure that all can live their best life. She is an advocate for preventative care and early treatment to avoid lasting illness.
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.
Can apple cider vinegar treat erectile dysfunction? Apple cider vinegar is thought to have many health benefits, but can it help treat erectile dysfunction (ED)? ED can result from cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and other factors. Apple cider vinegar may help improve symptoms of conditions related to ED. Find out how it may help, and how to use it safely. A Home-Based Walking Program Improves Erectile Dysfunction in Men With an Acute Myocardial Infarction. The American Journal of Cardiology, 115(5), 5741-575. Retrieved from http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(14)02270-X/abstract