Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to achieve or sustain a hard enough erection for satisfactory completion of sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction is different from other health conditions that interfere with male sexual function, such as lack of sexual desire (decreased libido) and problems with ejaculation release of the fluid from the penis (ejaculatory dysfunction) and orgasm/climax (orgasmic dysfunction), and penile curvature (Peyronie's disease), although these problems may also be present. ED affects about 50% of men age 40 and over. This article focuses on the evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction.
In many cases, diagnosing erectile dysfunction requires little more than a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that an underlying health problem may be at play, however, he may request additional testing. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment – here are some of the options:
The appropriate evaluation of all men with erectile dysfunction should include a medical and detailed sexual history (including practices and techniques), a physical examination, a psycho-social evaluation, and basic laboratory studies. When available, a multidisciplinary approach to this evaluation may be desirable. In selected patients, further physiologic or invasive studies may be indicated. A sensitive sexual history, including expectations and motivations, should be obtained from the patient (and sexual partner whenever possible) in an interview conducted by an interested physician or another specially trained professional. A written patient questionnaire may be helpful but is not a substitute for the interview. The sexual history is needed to accurately define the patient's specific complaint and to distinguish between true erectile dysfunction, changes in sexual desire, and orgasmic or ejaculatory disturbances. The patient should be asked specifically about perceptions of his erectile dysfunction, including the nature of onset, frequency, quality, and duration of erections; the presence of nocturnal or morning erections; and his ability to achieve sexual satisfaction. Psychosocial factors related to erectile dysfunction should be probed, including specific situational circumstances, performance anxiety, the nature of sexual relationships, details of current sexual techniques, expectations, motivation for treatment, and the presence of specific discord in the patient's relationship with his sexual partner. The sexual partner's own expectations and perceptions should also be sought since they may have important bearing on diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
Erectile dysfunction is a surprisingly common experience. It has been estimated that at least 1 in 10 men is affected to some extent yet, because of the embarrassment and even shame which has been attached to this condition, many men do not seek treatment. Growing older is a factor, with the number of those experiencing erectile dysfunction increasing with age, but it affects the entire range from the youngest to the oldest.
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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.
Erectile dysfunction can be effectively treated with a variety of methods. Many patients and health care providers are unaware of these treatments, and the dysfunction thus often remains untreated, compounded by its psychological impact. Concurrent with the increase in the availability of effective treatment methods has been increased availability of new diagnostic procedures that may help in the selection of an effective, cause-specific treatment. This conference was designed to explore these issues and to define the state of the art.
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. 
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.
Uncooperative boners might be related to low testosterone, which could be caused by anything from being overweight or stressed to having a chronic health condition, says Paduch. And in men who have taken anabolic steroids, it's not uncommon for them to end up suppressing their natural testosterone production. If you abuse it over a long period of time, you can really mess with your natural testosterone levels, as well as your fertility and erectile function, he says.
The neurologic pathways required for erection originate in the cerebral cortex where visual, auditory, and psychic stimuli are processed, and in the pudenal nerve, an afferent nerve that transmits tactile sensations from the genitals to the sacral segments of the spinal cord and cortex. Efferent signals from the spinal cord pass along the pelvic parasympathetic nerves and dilate the corporal vessels. The specific neurotransmitters have not been fully defined; acetylcholine, and perhaps vasoactive intestinal peptide, appears to be important. There are many causes of neurogenic impotence. Anything that disrupts neural pathways or blocks neurochemical transmission will have an adverse effect on erection. Psychologic factors probably interfere with erection by inhibiting corticosacral efferent pathways.
The first stem cell study for the treatment of ED was published in 2004. This study used embryonic stem cells to treat ED. At this time, there is a total of 36 published basic studies assessing stem cell therapy for ED, with two clinical trials. The mechanism of action of stem cells is to generate angiogenesis with subsequent increase in cavernosal smooth muscle cells within the corporal bodies.46
Yes, the vacuum device is effective. In fact, with use of the vacuum device, 88% of men will have an erection that is satisfactory for completion of sexual activity. The vacuum device may be the only therapy that is effective after the removal of a penile prosthesis. Patients also use vacuum devices as part of penile rehabilitation after radical prostatectomy to help preserve the tissue of the penis and prevent scarring within the penis and loss of penile length. Its use, however, is limited by the mechanical nature of it and the time taken to pump the device and apply the band. Sex partners may complain of the penis being cool to touch.
Because impotence can be due to health problems that can affect the whole body, and because it can interfere with one’s quality of life, it is important to talk with your doctor if you have trouble attaining or maintaining an erection. With increasing discussion of impotence in the media, coupled with advances in treatment, men are now much more comfortable talking with their doctors about impotence. It is currently estimated that between 15 and 30 million men in the United States are affected by impotence (Source: NIDDK).
Impotence can have emotional causes but most often it is due to a physical problem. The physical causes of impotence include diseases (such as diabetes and hypertension), injuries (such as from prostate surgery), side-effects of drugs (such as the protease inhibitors used in HIV therapy), and disorders (such as atherosclerosis) that impair blood flow in the penis. Impotence is treatable in all age groups. Treatments include psychotherapy, vacuum devices, surgery and, most often today, drug therapy.
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The vacuum device creates a vacuum to pull blood into the penis. Unlike a normal erection, the inflow of blood does not continue once the individual removes the vacuum device. The rubber band placed at the base of the penis constricts the penis to prevent the blood from leaving the penis. As there is no inflow or outflow of blood when the rubber band is in place, it is uncommon for the tip of the penis (the glans) to appear a little blue and the penis to be cooler. Once intercourse is completed, the individual removes the rubber band and the blood drains out of the penis.
The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of paired cylinders, which doctors surgically insert inside the penis. Patients can expand the cylinders using pressurized fluid (see figure 3). Tubes connect the cylinders to a fluid reservoir and pump, which doctors also surgically implant. The reservoir is usually in the pelvis. A doctor places the pump in the scrotum. By pressing on the pump, sterile fluid transfers from the reservoir into the cylinders in the penis. An erection is produced primarily by expansion of the width of the penis, however, one model can increase in length a small amount also. Lock-out valves in the tubing prevent the fluid from leaving the cylinder until a release valve is pressed. By pressing the relief valve and gently squeezing the penis, the fluid within the cylinders transfers back into the reservoir.
Many factors can contribute to sexual dysfunction in older men, including physical and psychological conditions, comorbidities and the medications used to treat them. Aspects of an ageing man’s lifestyle and behaviour and androgen deficiency, most often decreasing testosterone levels, may affect sexual function as well. A study of men between the ages of 30 and 79 years showed that 24% had testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL and 5.6% had symptomatic androgen deficiency.2
The recommended starting dose of vardenafil is 10 mg taken orally approximately one hour before sexual activity. A doctor may adjust the dose higher or lower depending on efficacy and side effects. The maximum recommended dose is 20 mg, and the maximum recommended dosing frequency is no more than once per day. Patients can take vardenafil with or without food. As with sildenafil, for vardenafil to be effective, sexual stimulation must occur.
"Data shows the longer you ride, the higher your chance of developing ED in terms of distance per week," Gittens says. If you cycle for exercise or socialization, you don't have to necessarily give it up, just make some modifications. Gittens suggests riding for shorter distances, giving yourself a rest every once in a while, finding a comfortable seat, and getting a bike that’s sized appropriately.
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
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Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.