It is common for a healthy older man to still want sex and be able to have sex within appropriate limitations. Understanding what is normal in older age is important to avoid frustration and concern. Older men and their partners often value being able to continue sexual activity and there is no age where the man is ‘too old’ to think about getting help with his erection or other sexual problems.
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Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
Psychological Causes of ED – Between 10% and 20% of ED cases have a psychological cause. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.

Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years, [4] exerting substantial effects on quality of life. [5] This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.
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.
The dorsal artery provides for engorgement of the glans during erection, whereas the bulbourethral artery supplies the bulb and the corpus spongiosum. The cavernous artery effects tumescence of the corpus cavernosum and thus is principally responsible for erection. The cavernous artery gives off many helicine arteries, which supply the trabecular erectile tissue and the sinusoids. These helicine arteries are contracted and tortuous in the flaccid state and become dilated and straight during erection. [9]
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.
A useful and simple way to distinguish between physiological and psychological impotence is to determine whether the patient ever has an erection. If never, the problem is likely to be physiological; if sometimes (however rarely), it could be physiological or psychological. The current diagnostic and statistical manual of mental diseases (DSM-IV) has included a listing for impotence.
Among their findings, the panel concluded that (1) the term "erectile dysfunction" should replace the term "impotence"; (2) the likelihood of erectile dysfunction increases with age but is not an inevitable consequence of aging; (3) embarrassment of patients and reluctance of both patients and health care providers to discuss sexual matters candidly contribute to underdiagnosis of erectile dysfunction; (4) many cases of erectile dysfunction can be successfully managed with appropriately selected therapy; (5) the diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction must be specific and responsive to the individual patient's needs and that compliance as well as the desires and expectations of both the patient and partner are important considerations in selecting appropriate therapy; (6) education of health care providers and the public on aspects of human sexuality, sexual dysfunction, and the availability of successful treatments is essential; and (7) erectile dysfunction is an important public health problem deserving of increased support for basic science investigation and applied research.
Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology
Psychosocial factors are important in all forms of erectile dysfunction. Careful attention to these issues and attempts to relieve sexual anxieties should be a part of the therapeutic intervention for all patients with erectile dysfunction. Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy alone may be helpful for some patients in whom no organic cause of erectile dysfunction is detected. Patients who refuse medical and surgical interventions also may be helped by such counseling. After appropriate evaluation to detect and treat coexistent problems such as issues related to the loss of a partner, dysfunctional relationships, psychotic disorders, or alcohol and drug abuse, psychological treatment focuses on decreasing performance anxiety and distractions and on increasing a couple's intimacy and ability to communicate about sex. Education concerning the factors that create normal sexual response and erectile dysfunction can help a couple cope with sexual difficulties. Working with the sexual partner is useful in improving the outcome of therapy. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy have been reported to relieve depression and anxiety as well as to improve sexual function. However, outcome data of psychological and behavioral therapy have not been quantified, and evaluation of the success of specific techniques used in these treatments is poorly documented. Studies to validate their efficacy are therefore strongly indicated.
The first step in treating the patient with ED is to take a thorough sexual, medical, and psychosocial history. Questionnaires are available to assist clinicians in obtaining important patient data. (See Presentation.) Successful treatment of sexual dysfunction has been demonstrated to improve sexual intimacy and satisfaction, improve sexual aspects of quality of life, improve overall quality of life, and relieve symptoms of depression. (See Treatment.)
…have traditionally been classified as impotence (inability of a man to achieve or maintain penile erection) and frigidity (inability of a woman to achieve arousal or orgasm during sexual intercourse). Because these terms—impotence and frigidity—have developed pejorative and misleading connotations, they are no longer used as scientific classifications, having been…
Modern drug therapy for ED made a significant advance in 1983, when British physiologist Giles Brindley dropped his trousers and demonstrated to a shocked Urodynamics Society audience his papaverine-induced erection.[32] The drug Brindley injected into his penis was a non-specific vasodilator, an alpha-blocking agent, and the mechanism of action was clearly corporal smooth muscle relaxation. The effect that Brindley discovered established the fundamentals for the later development of specific, safe, and orally effective drug therapies.[33][better source needed][34][better source needed]

Alprostadil may also be administered into the urethral opening of the penis. In MUSE (medical urethral system for erection), the man inserts a thin tube the width of a vermicelli noodle into his urethral opening and presses down on a plunger to deliver a tiny pellet containing alprostadil into his penis. The drug takes about 10 minutes to work and the erection lasts about an hour. The main side effect is a sensation of pain and burning in the urethra, which can last about five to 15 minutes.
While impotence may be the presenting symptom of vascular disease, in neurologic disease impotence generally occurs in the setting of an obvious nervous system disorder, typically in patients known to have spinal cord pathology or neuropathy. Impotent patients should be questioned about decreased genital sensation, which would suggest diabetic, alcoholic, or other forms of neuropathy; weakness, which may accompany multiple sclerosis or spinal cord tumors; and back pain, bowel, and bladder symptoms, which raise concern for cauda equina syndrome. A careful drug history is important in the evaluation of impotence. Drugs that cause impotence (Table 187.3) generally do so by interfering with neurotransmission.
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In a randomized double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial, sildenafil plus testosterone was not superior to sildenafil plus placebo in improving erectile function in men with ED and low testosterone levels. [19] The objective of the study was to determine whether the addition of testosterone to sildenafil therapy improves erectile response in men with ED and low testosterone levels.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
While erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, the risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases with age. According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, the prevalence of erectile dysfunction was 52% in men 40-70 years of age. The prevalence of complete erectile dysfunction increases from 5% at 40 years of age to 15% among men 70 years of age and older.

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.


When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
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