Sexual functioning involves a complex interaction among biologic, sociocultural, and psychological factors, and the complexity of this interaction makes it difficult to ascertain the clinical etiology of sexual dysfunction. Before any diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is made, problems that are explained by a nonsexual mental disorder or other stressors must first be addressed. Thus, in addition to the criteria for erectile disorder, the following must be considered:
ED is often the result of atherosclerosis, and as a result, men with ED frequently have cardiovascular disease. Sexual activity is associated with increased physical exertion, which in some men may increase the risk of having a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI). The major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease are age, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, smoking, abnormal lipid/cholesterol levels in the blood, and lack of exercise. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are at increased risk for a heart attack during sexual activity. The Princeton Consensus Panel developed guidelines for treating ED in men with cardiovascular disease. Thus, if you have ED and cardiovascular disease (for example, angina or prior heart attack), you should discuss whether or not treatment of ED and sexual activity are appropriate for you.
If you have been having ED for more than two months, you should see a doctor to find the cause. To detect the cause of ED, your doctor will take a history of when you started to have problems with erections and sex drive, illnesses or injuries that could cause ED, and any recent physical or emotional changes in your life. You also will need to review all the medications you take. The evaluation most often includes a physical exam.
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For example, many men with diabetes mellitus may develop erectile dysfunction during their young and middle adult years. Physicians, diabetes educators, and patients and their families are sometimes unaware of this potential complication. Whatever the causal factors, discomfort of patients and health care providers in discussing sexual issues becomes a barrier to pursuing treatment.
Most of us are raised to believe that men are ravenous sex-beasts, eternally horny and only pretending to be a part of polite society so that they can find some new crevice to jam their Jeremy Irons into. So the first time we cross paths (and genitals) with a guy who can't get an erection, many of us immediately panic and assume that the problem must be us. We must be profoundly unsexy. After all, what could else possibly stop these hormone-addled maniacs from getting an erection?
To start with, ED is NOT in your head. You can’t simply will yourself to get an erection, no matter how much you try. Studies show over 80% of ED cases are caused by a treatable physical disorder. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common causes. Even a perfectly healthy man can develop ED after a brain or spinal cord injury. ED can be a side effect of certain medications, too. Read more on our Causes of ED page.
In diabetics, impotence that develops acutely in the setting of hyperglycemia and poor metabolic control is usually reversible. This is not true of the slowly progressive impotence of long-standing diabetes that is a manifestation of autonomic neuropathy. Intracavernosal self-injection of vasoactive drugs such as papaverine, which relaxes arteriolar smooth muscle is a promising new approach to treatment that is particularly suited for diabetic patients whose erectile dysfunction is on a neuropathic basis. It also has been used with success in spinal cord patients.
An erection might last indefinitely if it weren’t for chemicals in the body called phosphodiesterases. They work at reversing the process trying to return the penis to being soft (i.e., flaccid). Usually there is a balance between the chemicals that result in an erection lasting for as long as it is needed, which allows the phosphodiesterases to do their job when they should and no sooner. You wouldn’t want an erection forever so it is a good thing that phosphodiesterases exist.
Not to give your already stressed-out dude one more thing to worry about, but stress is the cause of 20 percent of all erectile problems, from one-off boner blunders to a lingering inability to get and maintain an erection. Of course, sex difficulties are just the tip of the stress-induced health problem iceberg — sustained stress can also lead to insomnia, stomach troubles, chest pains, anxiety, and more severe health issues in the long term.
Factors that mediate contraction in the penis include noradrenaline, endothelin-1, neuropeptide Y, prostanoids, angiotensin II, and others not yet identified. Factors that mediate relaxation include acetylcholine, nitric oxide (NO), vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, pituitary adenylyl cyclase–activating peptide, calcitonin gene–related peptide, adrenomedullin, adenosine triphosphate, and adenosine prostanoids.
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.
Cause-specific assessment and treatment of male sexual dysfunction will require recognition by the public and the medical community that erectile dysfunction is a part of overall male sexual dysfunction. The multifactorial nature of erectile dysfunction, comprising both organic and psychologic aspects, may often require a multidisciplinary approach to its assessment and treatment. This consensus report addresses these issues, not only as isolated health problems but also in the context of societal and individual perceptions and expectations.
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.
An approach to the diagnosis and management of the impotent patient is presented in Figure 187.1. Apparent and likely causes of impotence should be considered first and, if possible, eliminated before the work-up continues. For instance, observing the patient for a few weeks off offending medication may be all that is necessary to establish the cause of impotence. When no obvious or remediable cause is present, the next step is based on the clinical impression of the likelihood of organic versus psychologic impotence. If the latter is considered more likely, it is perfectly reasonable to refer the patient directly for sexual therapy, with the option of reconsidering the diagnosis if, after appropriate therapy, there is no improvement. While an occasional patient with organic impotence will be misrouted, many more with psychogenic impotence will be spared an unnecessary and costly evaluation for organic causes. When organic impotence is likely, a serum testosterone level is the initial screening test for hypogonadism and should be obtained prior to urologic referral. Patients with low testosterone levels require further endocrine evaluations as depicted in Figure 187.1.
In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.