The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
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.
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.
Another approach is vacuum therapy. The man inserts his penis into a clear plastic cylinder and uses a pump to force air out of the cylinder. This forms a partial vacuum around the penis, which helps to draw blood into the corpora cavernosa. The man then places a special ring over the base of the penis to trap the blood inside it. The only side effect with this type of treatment is occasional bruising if the vacuum is left on too long.
Smoking damages blood vessels, inhibiting blood flow throughout the body ... and I mean throughout the body. While studies have found that men with erectile problems only make up 20 percent of the general population, 40 percent of men with erectile problems are smokers. And a 2011 study of a group of male smokers with erectile problems found that 75 percent of them saw those erectile problems disappear after they quit.
The prostaglandin E1 is contained in a small suppository located at the tip of an applicator. You should urinate first as this lubricates the urethra and makes it easier to insert the applicator into the tip of the urethra (urethral meatus, the opening at the tip of the penis that urine passes through). A patient can release the suppository into urethra by gently wiggling the applicator and pressing the button at the end. Rubbing the penis allows the suppository to dissolve, and the prostaglandin is absorbed through the tissue of the urethra into the penis. It takes 15 to 30 minutes for this occur. Once into the penis, the prostaglandin causes increased blood flow into the penis. The prostaglandin can be present in the ejaculate, and thus doctors recommend that men use a condom when having intercourse with a pregnant partner. Men may need to use a condom if vaginal irritation occurs in female partner.
For some patients with an established diagnosis of testicular failure (hypogonadism), androgen replacement therapy may sometimes be effective in improving erectile function. A trial of androgen replacement may be worthwhile in men with low serum testosterone levels if there are no other contraindications. In contrast, for men who have normal testosterone levels, androgen therapy is inappropriate and may carry significant health risks, especially in the situation of unrecognized prostate cancer. If androgen therapy is indicated, it should be given in the form of intramuscular injections of testosterone enanthate or cypionate. Oral androgens, as currently available, are not indicated. For men with hyperprolactinemia, bromocriptine therapy often is effective in normalizing the prolactin level and improving sexual function. A wide variety of other substances taken either orally or topically have been suggested to be effective in treating erectile dysfunction. Most of these have not been subjected to rigorous clinical studies and are not approved for this use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Their use should therefore be discouraged until further evidence in support of their efficacy and indicative of their safety is available.
Aging: There are two reasons why older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men. First, older men are more likely to develop diseases (such as heart attacks, angina, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure) that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Second, the aging process alone can cause erectile dysfunction in some men by causing changes in the muscle and tissue within the penis.
It is important for clinicians prescribing these drugs to make the patient aware of the action of the drugs especially the fact that they do not result in an immediate erection, and that they do not cause an erection without sexual stimulation. There is frequently a great expectation when men begin using these drugs and it is wise to temper their enthusiasm and explain they do not work immediately, and may not work every time, but also let the patient know that if these drugs do not work, there are other options.
Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men. Although for some men erectile function may not be the best or most important measure of sexual satisfaction, for many men erectile dysfunction creates mental stress that affects their interactions with family and associates. Many advances have occurred in both diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction. However, its various aspects remain poorly understood by the general population and by most health care professionals. Lack of a simple definition, failure to delineate precisely the problem being assessed, and the absence of guidelines and parameters to determine assessment and treatment outcome and long-term results, have contributed to this state of affairs by producing misunderstanding, confusion, and ongoing concern. That results have not been communicated effectively to the public has compounded this situation.
Erection is a vascular event. The penis becomes rigid when blood flow to the corpora cavernosa increases sixfold and venous outflow is physiologically impeded. Penile perfusion is governed by three organ systems—the neurologic, circulatory, and endocrinologic systems—each necessary for potency. The neurologic system accounts for vasodilation and venoconstriction of the corporal blood vessels so that blood is shunted to the erectile tissues; the circulatory system provides adequate blood flow to the hypogastric-cavernous bed, a distal branch off the internal iliac vessels; and the endocrine system, mediated by testosterone, plays a permissive role through mechanisms that have yet to be elucidated.
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.
A vacuum erection device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. This type of device is sometimes referred to as penis pump and may be used just prior to sexual intercourse. Several types of FDA approved vacuum therapy devices are available with a doctor's prescription. When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to the penis to maintain it. These pumps should be distinguished from other penis pumps (supplied without compression rings) which, rather than being used for temporary treatment of impotence, are claimed to increase penis length if used frequently, or vibrate as an aid to masturbation. More drastically, inflatable or rigid penile implants may be fitted surgically.
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.
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil.  This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
The drugs work best in combination with sex therapy. Several studies have shown this. There’s more to satisfying sex than just an erection. The quality of the relationship is crucial, especially if sex has been a sore point or if the couple hasn’t had much for a while. To find a sex therapist near you, visit the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, or the American Board of Sexology.
Alprostadil should not be used in men with urethral stricture (scarring and narrowing of the tube that urine and the ejaculate pass through), balanitis (inflammation/infection of the glans [tip] of the penis, severe hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, rather on the underside of the penis), penile curvature (abnormal bend to the penis), and urethritis (inflammation/infection of the urethra).
Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.