Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician now understand that many older men retain an interest in sexual activity as they age. Some primary care physicians think that sexual potency in older men is the norm, and that if it is lacking, it is ‘all in the head.’ This viewpoint has not been supported by current literature. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) found that 52% of men between 40 and 70 years old reported having some form of erectile dysfunction (ED).1 The reality is that ED is a natural part of ageing and that the prevalence increases with age. In the MMAS, they found that roughly 50% of men at 50 years old, 60% of men at 60 years old and 70% of men at 70 years old had ED. Thus, nearly all men who live long enough should develop ED. The myths that surround the problems of impotence or ED confound the attempts of patients to receive treatment and the attempts of physicians to help them.1
Diabetes is a well-recognized risk factor for ED. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that the prevalence of ED was 37.5% in type 1 diabetes, 66.3% in type 2 diabetes, and 52.5% in diabetes overall—a rate approximately 3.5 times higher than that in controls.  The etiology of ED in diabetic men probably involves both vascular and neurogenic mechanisms. Evidence indicates that establishing good glycemic control can minimize this risk.
Men with physical causes of ED have options, including such medicines as sildenafil (Viagra®), vardenafil (Levitra®), or tadalafil (Cialis®). Men who use nitroglycerin products and those who should avoid sexual activity because of cardiovascular disease shouldn’t take these drugs. Other treatment modalities include use of a vacuum pump or injection of a substance (papaverine) into the penis to increase blood flow to the penis. Men can also have surgery to put a prosthesis into the penis.
Cause-specific assessment and treatment of male sexual dysfunction will require recognition by the public and the medical community that erectile dysfunction is a part of overall male sexual dysfunction. The multifactorial nature of erectile dysfunction, comprising both organic and psychologic aspects, may often require a multidisciplinary approach to its assessment and treatment. This consensus report addresses these issues, not only as isolated health problems but also in the context of societal and individual perceptions and expectations.
For example, many men with diabetes mellitus may develop erectile dysfunction during their young and middle adult years. Physicians, diabetes educators, and patients and their families are sometimes unaware of this potential complication. Whatever the causal factors, discomfort of patients and health care providers in discussing sexual issues becomes a barrier to pursuing treatment.
One report from a recent community survey concluded that erectile failure was the leading complaint of males attending sex therapy clinics. Other studies have shown that erectile disorders are the primary concern of sex therapy patients in treatment. This is consistent with the view that erectile dysfunction may be associated with depression, loss of self-esteem, poor self-image, increased anxiety or tension with one's sexual partner, and/or fear and anxiety associated with contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.
Hypogonadism may be suggested by the patient's general appearance. If testosterone deficiency antedates puberty, as in Klinefelter's syndrome, eunuchoid proportions—defined as an arm span 5 cm or more in excess of height, or a sole-to-pubis length exceeding crown-to-pubis length by more than 2 cm—may be present. In postpubertal males whose testosterone levels are markedly depressed, the secondary sexual characteristics may become atrophic. Testicles less than 4 cm in length or a prostate gland that is smaller than expected may be the only clues on physical examination to a pituitary tumor with secondary hypogonadism.
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.