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.
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.
Medications: Many common medicines produce erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include many used to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants. Examples of common medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include propranolol (Inderal) or other beta-blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, digoxin (Lanoxin), amitriptyline (Elavil), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), metoclopramide (Reglan), naproxen, indomethacin (Indocin), lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), verapamil (Calan, Verelan, Isoptin), phenytoin (Dilantin), gemfibrozil (Lopid), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and phentermine. Prostate cancer medications that lower testosterone levels such as leuprolide (Lupron) may affect erectile function. Some chemotherapies such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may affect erectile function.
You’ve probably heard of Viagra, but it’s not the only pill for ED. This class of drugs also includes Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, and Stendra. All work by improving blood flow to the penis during arousal. They're generally taken 30-60 minutes before sexual activity and should not be used more than once a day. Cialis can be taken up to 36 hours before sexual activity and also comes in a lower, daily dose. Staxyn dissolves in the mouth. All require an OK from your doctor first for safety.
PDE 5 inhibitors are broken down primarily by enzyme, cytochrome P450enzyme CYP3A4. Medications that decrease or increase the activity of CYP3A4 may affect levels and effectiveness of PDE 5 inhibitors. Such drugs include medications for the treatment of HIV (protease inhibitors) and the antifungal medications ketoconazole and itraconazole. Thus caution is recommended.
By contrast, psychogenic impotence typically is abrupt in onset, often in relation to psychological trauma, and may wax and wane. Patients with psychogenic impotence may have total erectile failure with one partner but not another, or be impotent during sexual intercourse but not during self-stimulation. Normally occurring spontaneous erections in the morning suggest psychogenic rather than organic causes for impotence.
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.
Endocrine evaluation consisting of a morning serum testosterone is generally indicated. Measurement of serum prolactin may be indicated. A low testosterone level merits repeat measurement together with assessment of luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and prolactin levels. Other tests may be helpful in excluding unrecognized systemic disease and include a complete blood count, urinalysis, creatinine, lipid profile, fasting blood sugar, and thyroid function studies.
Psychological factors — Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of impotence. Doctors now know that physical factors cause impotence in most men with the problem. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse.
For many men, there is no direct factor involved in erectile dysfunction other than the natural process or aging. As men age, the testosterone hormone decreases in productivity and circulation. Basically, the body is saying that the man has done his job, especially if he has had children. During this time of drawdown on testosterone, men may experience weaker erections, more difficulty in achieving erections, and more difficulty in maintaining erections.
Her remark was entirely destructive of poetry, since it was to the effect that poetry had nothing whatever to do with her; all her friends spent their lives in making up phrases, she said; all his feeling was an illusion, and next moment, as if to taunt him with his impotence, she had sunk into one of those dreamy states which took no account whatever of his existence.
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.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
Remember those cultural messages we discussed earlier, about how men are wild sex aliens from the planet Weenus? Well, men are raised hearing those messages, too, and they can end up screwing with their sexual self-image —for instance, they can lead men to obsess over their own virility, and panic about impressing a new partner, until they've thought their boner into a corner and can't get an erection. Performance anxiety is one of the most common culprits behind lost erections, especially among younger, less experienced men.
In diabetics, impotence that develops acutely in the setting of hyperglycemia and poor metabolic control is usually reversible. This is not true of the slowly progressive impotence of long-standing diabetes that is a manifestation of autonomic neuropathy. Intracavernosal self-injection of vasoactive drugs such as papaverine, which relaxes arteriolar smooth muscle is a promising new approach to treatment that is particularly suited for diabetic patients whose erectile dysfunction is on a neuropathic basis. It also has been used with success in spinal cord patients.
Injection of vasodilator substances into the corpora of the penis has provided a new therapeutic technique for a variety of causes of erectile dysfunction. The most effective and well-studied agents are papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E[sub 1]. These have been used either singly or in combination. Use of these agents occasionally causes priapism (inappropriately persistent erections). This appears to have been seen most commonly with papaverine. Priapism is treated with adrenergic agents, which can cause life-threatening hypertension in patients receiving monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Use of the penile vasodilators also can be problematic in patients who cannot tolerate transient hypotension, those with severe psychiatric disease, those with poor manual dexterity, those with poor vision, and those receiving anticoagulant therapy. Liver function tests should be obtained in those being treated with papaverine alone. Prostaglandin E[sub 1] can be used together with papaverine and phentolamine to decrease the incidence of side effects such as pain, penile corporal fibrosis, fibrotic nodules, hypotension, and priapism. Further study of the efficacy of multitherapy versus monotherapy and of the relative complications and safety of each approach is indicated. Although these agents have not received FDA approval for this indication, they are in widespread clinical use. Patients treated with these agents should give full informed consent. There is a high rate of patient dropout, often early in the treatment. Whether this is related to side effects, lack of spontaneity in sexual relations, or general loss of interest is unclear. Patient education and followup support might improve compliance and lessen the dropout rate. However, the reasons for the high dropout rate need to be determined and quantified.
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.
Estimates of the prevalence of impotence depend on the definition employed for this condition. For the purposes of this consensus development conference statement, impotence is defined as male erectile dysfunction, that is, the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Erectile performance has been characterized by the degree of dysfunction, and estimates of prevalence (the number of men with the condition) vary depending on the definition of erectile dysfunction used.
There are treatments available to help you to get and maintain an erection. In addition, making healthy changes to your lifestyle could help with impotence. Switching to a healthier balanced diet, taking more exercise and cutting down on or giving up alcohol and cigarettes could help you to see an improvement in sexual function. If you think that the problem may be related to stress or anxiety, counselling can also help.
In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.