ED is defined as the inability to achieve a full erection or the inability to maintain an erection adequate for sexual intimacy. Other types of sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation and low libido may occur; however, the most common and disruptive problem in men is ED. Although most men will experience periodic episodes of ED, these episodes tend to become more frequent with advancing age.
Men are very susceptible to visual stimulation, particularly as children and teenagers. Seeing anything appealing (say, a person or image) activates pathways in the brain that tell nerves in your lower spinal cord to trigger a release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessel walls and floods your penis with blood, making it hard. Nitric oxide is the key chemical here, as you need a mix released from your nerves AND from your blood vessels to get an erection. If the blood vessels, nerves, or both are damaged, it's difficult to get a hard erection. That's why your doctor may well be interested if you're struggling with erections, as it could be a sign of early heart disease or diabetes.
Stress is your body responding to your environment. And it’s a good thing—in limited doses. When you get stressed out your body makes chemicals like adrenaline that make you stronger, faster, fitter, and even able to think more clearly. Most people call this reaction the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s a life-saver in dangerous situations. In a very real sense, adrenaline makes you a part-time superhero. The problems happen when your body deals with constant stress.
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
Your boyfriend is having a pretty normal problem but because guys are so insecure, they almost never talk about it. That silence often makes guys, especially young guys, panicky — like they’re the only ones in the world dealing with this problem. That freaks them out even more, and that anxiety feeds on itself in a fairly classic and unfortunately common pattern: When a guy has trouble getting it up, he gets so down that the impotence gets worse before it gets better. Anxiety-driven impotence can be a vicious cycle: Quite unlike his dick, the problem just grows and grows.
Your erection problems may be putting a strain on your relationship. You may have stopped touching and cuddling your partner, scared that it could lead to sex - and then to disappointment because you cannot get hard. You may have found it has led to regular arguments. At its worst, erection problems can lead to the breakdown of relationships. So it is vitally important to talk things over with your partner.
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.
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.
Smoking damages blood vessels, inhibiting blood flow throughout the body ... and I mean throughout the body. While studies have found that men with erectile problems only make up 20 percent of the general population, 40 percent of men with erectile problems are smokers. And a 2011 study of a group of male smokers with erectile problems found that 75 percent of them saw those erectile problems disappear after they quit.
PDE5 inhibitors, the primary second-line therapy, have been the mainstay of ED treatment since the release of sildenafil (Viagra) in 1998, with the subsequent development of many others, and still more in the development stage. These medications do improve erectile quality for the majority of men, and they work by enhancing blood flow in the corpora cavernosa. These medications are generally used on demand and need to be taken about an hour before sexual intimacy. Tadalafil (Cialis) is longer acting and does come in a daily preparation potentially eliminating the ‘on-demand’ need. The daily dosing of tadalafil, 2.5–5 mg\day, has also been approved by the FDA for treatment of symptoms of BPH.41 PDE5 inhibitors are contraindicated in men taking nitrates, but otherwise PDE5 inhibitors are very safe and effective. When PDE5 inhibitors are coadministered with nitrates, pronounced systemic vasodilation and severe hypotension are possible. Many patients with ED are elderly and have the same risk factors as patients with CAD, so these drug combinations are commonly considered or encountered in clinical practice.42
There are no formal tests to diagnose erectile dysfunction. Some blood tests are generally done to exclude underlying disease, such as hypogonadism and prolactinoma. Impotence is also related to generally poor physical health, poor dietary habits, obesity, and most specifically cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease. Therefore, a thorough physical examination is helpful, in particular the simple search for a previously undetected groin hernia since it can affect sexual functions in men and is easily curable.
Achieving an erection is a complicated process, requiring transmission of sensations from the genital area to the nervous system and the return of nervous impulses to the muscles and blood vessels of the penis. Anything that interferes with this interchange, such as disease or injury of the blood vessels, muscles, or nerves, can make achieving and maintaining an erection difficult. Psychological factors, such as anxiety and depression, can also interfere with erectile function. Anxiety and depression may also develop as a consequence of impotence.
Thanks for your question, Frightened Turtle! To help answer it, we spoke with Dr. Darius Paduch, urologist and male sexual medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and sex therapist Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute for sex and relationship therapy in Boulder, Colorado. Here's what they had to say:
Obesity and metabolic syndrome can cause changes in blood pressure, body composition, and cholesterol which may lead to ED. Other conditions that may contribute to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Taking certain medications can also increase your risk for ED.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.