Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common conditions affecting middle-aged and older men. Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician will be called upon to manage this condition or to make referrals to urologists, endocrinologists and cardiologists who will assist in the treatment of ED. This article will briefly discuss the diagnosis and management of ED. In addition, emerging concepts in ED management will be discussed, such as the use of testosterone to treat ED, the role of the endothelium in men with ED and treating the partner of the man with ED. Finally, future potential therapies for ED will be discussed.
The main medical causes of erectile dysfunction are based around poor blood flow (due to furring of the arteries thanks to raised cholesterol or high blood pressure), poor nerve supply caused by diabetes-related nerve damage, or low testosterone as a result of obesity, old age or failing gonads. We doctors get just as concerned with men who have variable erections as well as those that can't get an erection at all. Failing to get an erection occasionally is pretty normal as you get older. But if you have unreliable erections for a prolonged period of time – more than six months – this could suggest an early sign of physical problems such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes which could develop further so get yourself checked out.
The Latin term impotentia coeundi describes simple inability to insert the penis into the vagina; it is now mostly replaced by more precise terms, such as erectile dysfunction (ED). The study of erectile dysfunction within medicine is covered by andrology, a sub-field within urology. Research indicates that erectile dysfunction is common, and it is suggested that approximately 40% of males with erectile dysfunction or impotence, at least occasionally. The condition is also on occasion called phallic impotence. Its antonym or opposite condition is priapism.
Most older men suffer not ED but erection dissatisfaction. Starting around age 50 (often earlier among smokers and/or diabetics), erections change. In some men, the process is gradual, in others, it happens more quickly. Either way, older men lose the ability to raise erections solely from sexual fantasies. Direct fondling of the penis becomes necessary. When erections appear, they rise more slowly and do not become as firm as they were during men’s thirties and forties. And minor distractions may cause wilting—the doorbell or an ambulance siren. These changes alarm many men, who jump to the conclusion that they must have ED. If you can still raise erection durings masturbation, you don’t. What you have is erection dissatisfaction.
The observation that TRT enhances the efficacy of PDE5 inhibitors in hypogonadal men taking these therapies with suboptimal response to the PDE5 inhibitors alone has been reported.33 In addition, investigators have demonstrated that TRT in hypogonadal men can improve erectile function even without the benefit of PDE5 inhibitors.33 In addition, guidelines for managing ED in hypogonadal men by the European Association of Urology recommend controlling the man to a eugonadal state prior to initiation of PDE5 inhibitor therapy.36 Testosterone measurement consists of a serum specimen which should be ideally obtained in the morning because of the normal diurnal variation of testosterone which is at its peak in the morning. Since TRT is relatively safe, and men can potentially see an improvement in erectile function, it seems prudent to consider this issue when presented with a patient suffering from ED.
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.
In this study, ED proceeded CVD in almost 70% of cases. Similarly, many men with ED have been found to have pre-existing CVD. A study by Vlachopoulos et al evaluated the incidence of asymptomatic CVD in 50 men with ED.22 These authors found that 19% of men with ED had asymptomatic CVD. Similarly, Mulhall and colleagues found that 20% of men presenting with ED and vascular insufficiency on penile duplex had asymptomatic CVD.23
Aging, liver and kidney problems, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic] and protease inhibitors for HIV) slows the metabolism (breakdown) of sildenafil. Slowed breakdown allows sildenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially may increase the risk of side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age, in men with significant kidney and liver disease, and in men who also are taking medications called protease inhibitors, the doctor will initiate sildenafil at a lower dose (25 mg) to avoid accumulation of sildenafil in the body. A protease inhibitor ritonavir (Norvir) is especially potent in increasing the accumulation of sildenafil, thus men who are taking Norvir should not take sildenafil doses higher than 25 mg and at a frequency of no greater than once in 48 hours. Other medications that may affect the level of sildenafil include erythromycin and ketoconazole.
Penile blood flow is measured using a Doppler probe and a 2.5 cm blood pressure cuff. Systolic pressures in the right and left corpora cavernosa are measured and the penile–brachial index is calculated taking a ratio of penile systolic pressure to brachial systolic pressure. These measures should be repeated before and after 3 minutes of exercising the pelvic and leg muscles. In normal men, the PBI should be 0.9 or greater. Ratios between 0.7 and 0.9 suggest vascular impotence; a ratio below 0.6 is diagnostic. Pelvic arteriography can be done if revascularization is considered.
Other medical therapies under evaluation include ROCK inhibitors and soluble guanyl cyclase activators. Melanocortin receptor agonists are a new set of medications being developed in the field of erectile dysfunction. Their action is on the nervous system rather than the vascular system. PT-141 is a nasal preparation that appears to be effective alone or in combination with PDE5 inhibitors. The main side effects include flushing and nausea. These drugs are currently not approved for commercial use.
Erectile dysfunction is clearly a symptom of many conditions, and certain risk factors have been identified, some of which may be amenable to prevention strategies. Diabetes mellitus, hypogonadism in association with a number of endocrinologic conditions, hypertension, vascular disease, high levels of blood cholesterol, low levels of high density lipoprotein, drugs, neurogenic disorders, Peyronie's disease, priapism, depression, alcohol ingestion, lack of sexual knowledge, poor sexual techniques, inadequate interpersonal relationships or their deterioration, and many chronic diseases, especially renal failure and dialysis, have been demonstrated as risk factors. Vascular surgery is also often a risk factor. Age appears to be a strong indirect risk factor in that it is associated with an increased likelihood of direct risk factors. Other factors require more extensive study. Smoking has an adverse effect on erectile function by accentuating the effects of other risk factors such as vascular disease or hypertension. To date, vasectomy has not been associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction other than causing an occasional psychological reaction that could then have a psychogenic influence. Accurate risk factor identification and characterization are essential for concerted efforts at prevention of erectile dysfunction.
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The motivation and expectations of the patient and his partner and education of both are critical in determining which therapy is chosen and in optimizing its outcome. If single therapy is ineffective, combining two or more forms of therapy may be useful. Penile prostheses should be placed only after patients have been carefully screened and informed. Vascular surgery should be undertaken only in the setting of clinical investigation and extensive clinical experience. With any form of therapy for erectile dysfunction, long-term followup by health professionals is required to assist the patient and his partner with adjustment to the therapeutic intervention. This is particularly true for intracavernosal injection and vacuum constriction therapies. Followup should include continued patient education and support in therapy, careful determination of reasons for cessation of therapy if this occurs, and provision of other options if earlier therapies are unsuccessful.
Your ability to orgasm is not connected to the prostate gland, although a man who has had a radical prostatectomy will have a dry orgasm with no ejaculation. As long as you have normal skin sensation, you should be able to have an orgasm with the right sexual stimulation. This means that treating your ED will allow you to resume a normal, healthy sex life.
Dr. Liou says that some men come to him after getting a prescription from their primary care doctors, claiming that the drug doesn't work. Sometimes it's because they used it incorrectly. "The biggest misconception is that these drugs are an on/off switch for erections," Dr. Liou says. But the drugs don't work well without sexual stimulation. "During that time, you need to be with your partner and have foreplay," Dr. Liou says. "Don't take it, do the taxes or the dishes, and then meet at the bedroom thinking you'll be ready to go. It's not like that."
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.
The neurologic pathways required for erection originate in the cerebral cortex where visual, auditory, and psychic stimuli are processed, and in the pudenal nerve, an afferent nerve that transmits tactile sensations from the genitals to the sacral segments of the spinal cord and cortex. Efferent signals from the spinal cord pass along the pelvic parasympathetic nerves and dilate the corporal vessels. The specific neurotransmitters have not been fully defined; acetylcholine, and perhaps vasoactive intestinal peptide, appears to be important. There are many causes of neurogenic impotence. Anything that disrupts neural pathways or blocks neurochemical transmission will have an adverse effect on erection. Psychologic factors probably interfere with erection by inhibiting corticosacral efferent pathways.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
Anxiety is particularly pernicious. It triggers the fight-or-flight reflex that sends blood away from the central body, including the penis, and out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Less blood in the central body means less blood available for erection. Erection dissatisfaction is upsetting, but try to accept it. It’s normal. And when men become anxious about it, erections become less likely.
Erectile dysfunction is a surprisingly common experience. It has been estimated that at least 1 in 10 men is affected to some extent yet, because of the embarrassment and even shame which has been attached to this condition, many men do not seek treatment. Growing older is a factor, with the number of those experiencing erectile dysfunction increasing with age, but it affects the entire range from the youngest to the oldest.
Currently, there are no therapies that cure erectile dysfunction. However, a number of effective therapies are available that allow an individual to have an erection when desired. Depending on the cause of the erectile dysfunction, certain therapies may be more effective than others. Although there is limited data on lifestyle modification, intuitively, decreasing risk factors for erectile dysfunction may help prevent progression of disease.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme.  The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
Don’t give up or blame yourself - you shouldn’t assume that your situation is impossible to improve or that your partner is disappointed in you. Studies show as long as you don’t stop trying to engage your partner sexually, they will still respond positively. If you communicate and stay positive you can work with your partner to get the result you’re looking for.
In some cases, nocturnal penile tumescence testing is performed to find out whether the man has erections while asleep. Healthy men usually have about four or five erections throughout the night. The man applies a device to the penis called a Rigiscan before going to bed at night, and the device can determine whether he has had erections. (If a man is able to have normal erections at night, this suggests a psychological cause for his impotence.)
Physical examination should include the assessment of male secondary sex characteristics, femoral and lower extremity pulses, and a focused neurologic examination including perianal sensation, anal sphincter tone, and bulbocavernosus reflex. More extensive neurologic tests, including dorsal nerve conduction latencies, evoked potential measurements, and corpora cavernosal electromyography lack normative (control) data and appear at this time to be of limited clinical value. Examination of the genitalia includes evaluation of testis size and consistency, palpation of the shaft of the penis to determine the presence of Peyronie's plaques, and a digital rectal examination of the prostate with assessment of anal sphincter tone.
The various PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of ED share several common side effects, including headache, flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, dyspepsia (stomach discomfort), and diarrhea. Differences exist in side effects of the different PDE5 inhibitors, and thus it is important to be familiar with the prescribing information of the PDE5 inhibitor you are prescribed.
Does drinking water improve erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction or ED is a common concern for men. Everyday factors, such as hydration levels, may affect a person's ability to get or maintain an erection. Drinking water may, therefore, help some men with ED. In this article, learn about the link between hydration and ED, and other factors that can cause ED. Read now