The causes of erectile dysfunction include aging, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), depression, nerve or spinal cord damage, medication side effects, alcoholism or other substance (drug) abuse, pelvic surgery including radical prostatectomy, pelvic radiation, penile/perineal/pelvic trauma such as pelvic fracture, Peyronie's disease (a disorder that causes curvature of the penis and sometimes painful erections), and low testosterone levels.
Occasional successful sexual function and early morning erections do not preclude the possibility of endocrine dysfunction. Since abnormally low levels of testosterone frequently are the primary cause of impotence, it is recommended that determination of the blood level of testosterone be an integral part of the total evaluation of the impotent patient.
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.
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.
Poor sleep patterns can be a contributing factor for erectile dysfunction, Mucher says. One review published in the journal Brain Research emphasized the intricate relationship between the level of sex hormones like testosterone, sexual function, and sleep, noting that testosterone levels increase with improved sleep, and lower levels are associated with sexual dysfunction. Hormone secretion is controlled by the body’s internal clock, and sleep patterns likely help the body determine when to release certain hormones.
For the patient whose history suggests organic impotence, further history, physical and laboratory data will help identify the cause. The classification listed in Table 187.2 is based on the pathophysiologic scheme presented above, and includes mechanical problems that can interfere with erection. Vascular disease is the most common cause of impotence. In advanced cases, Lehriche's syndrome of aortoiliac occlusion will be suggested by bilateral thigh or calf claudication, loss of muscle mass in the buttocks and legs, and impotence. However, the majority of patients with vascular impotence have less severe vascular disease and many will have occlusive disease of the hypogastric-cavernous bed only. Even among patients without claudication, vascular disease is still a likely cause of impotence, especially if risk factors for atherosclerosis are present. Nonatherosclerotic disease is a consideration in the patient with a history of trauma or radiation to the pelvis, both of which cause fibrosis of vessels.
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.