Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems. Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
All NOS subtypes produce NO, but each may play a different biologic role in various tissues. nNOS and eNOS are considered constitutive forms because they share biochemical features: They are calcium-dependent, they require calmodulin and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate for catalytic activity, and they are competitively inhibited by arginine derivatives. nNOS is involved in the regulation of neurotransmission, and eNOS is involved in the regulation of blood flow.
The role of the endothelium in erectile function became clearer with the observation that the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor, sildenafil, enhanced erectile function. Erection occurs with the release of nitric oxide (NO) from the vascular endothelial cells.17 The reduction in endothelial cell production of NO results in the negative impact on the smooth muscles in the corporal bodies and results in less relaxation of the smooth muscle cells with decrease in blood supply and resulting ED. A similar phenomenon is well known to impact the coronary arterial system resulting in CVD.
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.
None of the ED drugs is safe to take with cardiac drugs called nitrates because it could cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. Drugs that many men take for urinary symptoms, called alpha blockers, can also lower blood pressure, so take them at least four hours apart from ED drugs. Your doctor may start you on a smaller dose of the ED drug if you already take an alpha blocker, or may recommend the alpha blocker tamsulosin (Flomax), which affects blood pressure less.
The Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial was a landmark study by Thompson et al that prospectively assessed the time to developing CVD after the diagnosis of ED. There were 4247 men with no ED at study entry; 2420 developed incident ED (defined as the first report of ED of any grade) over 5 years. Those men that developed ED had a 1.45-fold higher probability of experiencing a CV event compared with men who did not develop ED.27
The 4 ED medicines we prescribe – Generic sildenafil 20 mg, Viagra (also sildenafil), Cialis (Tadalafil), or Levitra (Vardenafil) - are generally safe but shouldn’t be used as recreational drugs. They’re meant to treat a medical condition and can cause serious side effects including but not limited to an erection lasting more than four hours, sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, and sudden decrease or loss of hearing.
In other cases, men who habitually use alcohol or other drugs may experience similar results. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system. This means that a little bit might be able to lighten the mood, but too much can basically shut down all communication between the brain and the penis. When this happens, no amount of will or stimulation will result in an erection. Other drugs can also affect the body’s ability to achieve an erection, including heroin and MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy.
In order to establish whether normal erections are occurring overnight (nocturnal erections), the doctor may organise nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) testing. This involves wearing a monitor overnight in your own home. The data from this monitor is then assessed to analyse how often erections occurred, how long they lasted, and how rigid and large the penis was during the erections. If NPT testing is normal, the cause of erectile dysfunction is usually psychological. If not, further testing of the blood flow in the genital area may be required to see if there is blockage or leakage. The doctor may also organise a blood test of levels of hormones such as testosterone, prolactin and thyroid stimulating hormone to see if these are contributing to the erectile dysfunction.
Examination of the vascular system is particularly relevant to the evaluation of the impotent patient. Absence of pulses in the feet and presence of femoral bruits suggest atherosclerosis. However, normal femoral and pedal pulses do not exclude selective obstruction to penile blood flow. Direct palpation of the dorsal artery of the penis may be informative if pulsation is absent. The presence of a pulse, however, does not rule out vascular disease, particularly in a patient who is able to achieve normal erections at rest, but unable to maintain them during thrusting. At the same time that the penile pulses are palpated, the examiner should feel for plaques in the corpora cavernosa which would indicate Peyronie's disease.
It's unlikely. Testosterone levels fall as you get older but they have to fall really low to cause erectile problems. Thus assessment for erectile dysfunction includes a testosterone blood test but only replacement if it is very low. Giving someone more testosterone than their body would have made, even at a young age, can cause blood clots due to blood thickening and even reversible infertility. So don't be tempted with homespun remedies.
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.
Causes contributing to erectile dysfunction can be broadly classified into two categories: organic and psychologic. In reality, while the majority of patients with erectile dysfunction are thought to demonstrate an organic component, psychological aspects of self-confidence, anxiety, and partner communication and conflict are often important contributing factors.
The FDA does not recommend alternative therapies to treat sexual dysfunction. Many products are advertised as "herbal viagra" or "natural" sexual enhancement products, but no clinical trials or scientific studies support the effectiveness of these products for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, and synthetic chemical compounds similar to sildenafil have been found as adulterants in many of these products. The United States Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers that any sexual enhancement product that claims to work as well as prescription products is likely to contain such a contaminant.
Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. However, placement of a prosthesis causes scarring of the tissue within the corpora cavernosa, and if the prosthesis requires removal, other forms of therapy, except for the vacuum device, are often not effective. Thus, most physicians reserve placement of a prosthesis for men who have tried and failed or have contraindications to other therapies.
Inside the cell, NOS catalyzes the oxidation of L-arginine to NO and L-citrulline. Endogenous blockers of this pathway have been identified. The gaseous NO that is produced acts as a neurotransmitter or paracrine messenger. Its biologic half-life is only 5 seconds. NO may act within the cell or diffuse and interact with nearby target cells. In the corpora cavernosa, NO activates guanylate cyclase, which in turn increases cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Relaxation of vascular smooth muscles by cGMP leads to vasodilation and increased blood flow.
Before delving into the causes and solutions to erectile dysfunction, it’s first important to understand how erections work. The penis is mostly comprised or fibrous tissue that fills with blood upon arousal. This is what causes an erection, and after arousal is finished, blood drains back out into the body and the penis becomes flaccid. Men can have erections for no discernible reason throughout the day, but when sexual stimulation occurs, rather through contact, visual, audible, or mental stimulation, the potential for achieving an erection increases.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.