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.
But if the blood flow is weak here, it is highly likely that it is also weak in arteries supplying the heart, raising the risk of a heart attack. In fact, some studies suggest that women with heart disease may also suffer sexual dysfunction: the clitoris, like the penis, is a vascular organ, and also relies on healthy blood flow for successful orgasms.
Besides treating the underlying causes such as potassium deficiency or arsenic contamination of drinking water, the first line treatment of erectile dysfunction consists of a trial of PDE5 inhibitor (such as sildenafil). In some cases, treatment can involve prostaglandin tablets in the urethra, injections into the penis, a penile prosthesis, a penis pump or vascular reconstructive surgery.
Psychosocial factors are important in all forms of erectile dysfunction. Careful attention to these issues and attempts to relieve sexual anxieties should be a part of the therapeutic intervention for all patients with erectile dysfunction. Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy alone may be helpful for some patients in whom no organic cause of erectile dysfunction is detected. Patients who refuse medical and surgical interventions also may be helped by such counseling. After appropriate evaluation to detect and treat coexistent problems such as issues related to the loss of a partner, dysfunctional relationships, psychotic disorders, or alcohol and drug abuse, psychological treatment focuses on decreasing performance anxiety and distractions and on increasing a couple's intimacy and ability to communicate about sex. Education concerning the factors that create normal sexual response and erectile dysfunction can help a couple cope with sexual difficulties. Working with the sexual partner is useful in improving the outcome of therapy. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy have been reported to relieve depression and anxiety as well as to improve sexual function. However, outcome data of psychological and behavioral therapy have not been quantified, and evaluation of the success of specific techniques used in these treatments is poorly documented. Studies to validate their efficacy are therefore strongly indicated.
Most of us are raised to believe that men are ravenous sex-beasts, eternally horny and only pretending to be a part of polite society so that they can find some new crevice to jam their Jeremy Irons into. So the first time we cross paths (and genitals) with a guy who can't get an erection, many of us immediately panic and assume that the problem must be us. We must be profoundly unsexy. After all, what could else possibly stop these hormone-addled maniacs from getting an erection?
Constriction of the trabecular smooth muscle and helicine arteries induced by sympathetic innervation makes the penis flaccid, with blood pressure in the cavernosal sinuses of the penis near venous pressure. Acetylcholine is thought to decrease sympathetic tone. This may be important in a permissive sense for adequate trabecular smooth muscle relaxation and consequent effective action of other mediators in achieving sufficient inflow of blood into the lacunar spaces. When the trabecular smooth muscle relaxes and helicine arteries dilate in response to parasympathetic stimulation and decreased sympathetic tone, increased blood flow fills the cavernous spaces, increasing the pressure within these spaces so that the penis becomes erect. As the venules are compressed against the tunica albuginea, penile pressure approaches arterial pressure, causing rigidity. Once this state is achieved, arterial inflow is reduced to a level that matches venous outflow.
Cosgrove et al reported a higher rate of sexual dysfunction in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than in veterans who did not develop this problem.  The domains on the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) questionnaire that demonstrated the most change included overall sexual satisfaction and erectile function. [43, 44] Men with PTSD should be evaluated and treated if they have sexual dysfunction.
Organic impotence refers to the inability to obtain an erection firm enough for vaginal penetration, or the inability to sustain the erection until completion of intercourse. In contrast to psychogenic impotence, which is impotence caused by anxiety, guilt, depression, or conflict around various sexual issues, organic impotence, the more common of the two categories of erectile dysfunction, is caused by physical problems. Ten to 20% of middle-aged men and a much higher percentage of elderly men are impotent. Aside from its importance as a common and distressing sexual problem, organic impotence may herald important medical problems.
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.
In patients with low testosterone, testosterone treatment can improve libido and erectile dysfunction, but many men still may need additional oral medications such as sildenafil, vardenafil, or tadalafil. Some studies suggest that men with ED and low testosterone may respond better to PDE5 inhibitors when given testosterone therapy; however, this is controversial.
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The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.