The main medical causes of erectile dysfunction are based around poor blood flow (due to furring of the arteries thanks to raised cholesterol or high blood pressure), poor nerve supply caused by diabetes-related nerve damage, or low testosterone as a result of obesity, old age or failing gonads. We doctors get just as concerned with men who have variable erections as well as those that can't get an erection at all. Failing to get an erection occasionally is pretty normal as you get older. But if you have unreliable erections for a prolonged period of time – more than six months – this could suggest an early sign of physical problems such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes which could develop further so get yourself checked out.
When you become aroused, your brain sends chemical messages to the blood vessels in the penis, causing them to dilate or open, allowing blood to flow into the penis. As the pressure builds, the blood becomes trapped in the corpora cavernosa, keeping the penis erect. If blood flow to the penis is insufficient or if it fails to stay inside the penis, it can lead to erectile dysfunction.
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Some may use alcohol as a way to get into the mood and overcome some of the nerves associated with having sex, but too much of a good thing can actually backfire. In fact, having a long history of alcohol abuse may lead to long-term erectile dysfunction. As many as 70 percent of men with chronic erectile dysfunction also have a history of alcohol abuse.
#9 Smokers hell. Bad stimulants such as smoking cigarettes may be having a negative impact on more than just your lungs. That’s right, smoking may lead to a lazy penis. One study shows that 40% of men that suffer from erectile dysfunction are smokers. The good news is that 75% of men reported erectile issues disappear after quitting smoking. What better motivation to quit smoking than having amazing sex? [Read: How to keep an erection up for longer in 20 ways]
In other cases, men who habitually use alcohol or other drugs may experience similar results. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system. This means that a little bit might be able to lighten the mood, but too much can basically shut down all communication between the brain and the penis. When this happens, no amount of will or stimulation will result in an erection. Other drugs can also affect the body’s ability to achieve an erection, including heroin and MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
To reach the largest audience, communications strategies should include informative and accurate newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television programs, as well as special educational programs in senior centers. Resources for accurate information regarding diagnosis and treatment options also should include doctors' offices, unions, fraternal and service groups, voluntary health organizations, State and local health departments, and appropriate advocacy groups. Additionally, since sex education courses in schools uniformly address erectile function, the concept of erectile dysfunction can easily be communicated in these forums as well.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
For some patients with an established diagnosis of testicular failure (hypogonadism), androgen replacement therapy may sometimes be effective in improving erectile function. A trial of androgen replacement may be worthwhile in men with low serum testosterone levels if there are no other contraindications. In contrast, for men who have normal testosterone levels, androgen therapy is inappropriate and may carry significant health risks, especially in the situation of unrecognized prostate cancer. If androgen therapy is indicated, it should be given in the form of intramuscular injections of testosterone enanthate or cypionate. Oral androgens, as currently available, are not indicated. For men with hyperprolactinemia, bromocriptine therapy often is effective in normalizing the prolactin level and improving sexual function. A wide variety of other substances taken either orally or topically have been suggested to be effective in treating erectile dysfunction. Most of these have not been subjected to rigorous clinical studies and are not approved for this use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Their use should therefore be discouraged until further evidence in support of their efficacy and indicative of their safety is available.
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.
The general medical history is important in identifying specific risk factors that may account for or contribute to the patient's erectile dysfunction. These include vascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disorders, pelvic trauma or surgery, and blood lipid abnormalities. Decreased sexual desire or history suggesting a hypogonadal state could indicate a primary endocrine disorder. Neurologic causes may include a history of diabetes mellitus or alcoholism with associated peripheral neuropathy. Neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis, spinal injury, or cerebrovascular accidents are often obvious or well defined prior to presentation. It is essential to obtain a detailed medication and illicit drug history since an estimated 25 percent of cases of erectile dysfunction may be attributable to medications for other conditions. Past medical history can reveal important causes of erectile dysfunction, including radical pelvic surgery, radiation therapy, Peyronie's disease, penile or pelvic trauma, prostatitis, priapism, or voiding dysfunction. Information regarding prior evaluation or treatment for "impotence" should be obtained. A detailed sexual history, including current sexual techniques, is important in the general history obtained. It is also important to determine if there have been previous psychiatric illnesses such as depression or neuroses.
The inability to achieve or sustain a sufficiently firm penile erection (tumescence) to allow normal vaginal sexual intercourse. The great majority of cases are not caused by organic disease and most men experience occasional periods of impotence. It is often related to anxiety about performance and is usually readily corrected by simple counselling methods which prescribe sensual massage but forbid coitus. Organic impotence may be caused by DIABETES, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS, spinal cord disorders and heart disease. Many cases can be helped by the drug SILDENAFIL (Viagra).
Erection is a vascular event. The penis becomes rigid when blood flow to the corpora cavernosa increases sixfold and venous outflow is physiologically impeded. Penile perfusion is governed by three organ systems—the neurologic, circulatory, and endocrinologic systems—each necessary for potency. The neurologic system accounts for vasodilation and venoconstriction of the corporal blood vessels so that blood is shunted to the erectile tissues; the circulatory system provides adequate blood flow to the hypogastric-cavernous bed, a distal branch off the internal iliac vessels; and the endocrine system, mediated by testosterone, plays a permissive role through mechanisms that have yet to be elucidated.
Metabolism (breakdown) of vardenafil can be slowed by aging, liver disease, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic], ketoconazole [Nizoral, a medication for fungal/yeast infections], and protease inhibitors [medications used to treat AIDS]). Slowed breakdown allows vardenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially increase the risk for side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age with liver disease, or who are also taking medication(s) that can slow the breakdown of vardenafil, the doctor will initiate vardenafil at low doses to avoid its accumulation. For example,
An alprostadil cream that patients apply into the tip of the penis (the urethral meatus, the opening that urine passes through) is currently available in the UK and Europe. It is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After application of the cream, an erection occurs within five to 30 minutes, and the erection lasts one to two hours in men who respond to the cream. Doctors recommend that one use the cream for a maximum frequency of two to three times per week and no more frequent than once every 24 hours. It has essentially the same contraindications and side effects as the other formulations of alprostadil. The cream may cause vaginal burning in roughly 4% of partners. Men should not use alprostadil cream for sexual intercourse with women of childbearing potential unless a condom is used. Researchers have performed controlled trial studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this drug. Overall, 52% of men reported improvement in their erections compared to 20% of men receiving placebo. A later analysis demonstrated that 36% of men using the alprostadil cream had a clinically relevant improvement in vaginal penetration ability and 31% clinically relevant improvement in ability to have successful intercourse to ejaculation.
3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.
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.
In a prospective, multicenter, single-armed study of ED patients who exhibited a suboptimal response to PDE5 inhibitors, the investigators found that percutaneous implantation of zotarolimus-eluting stents in focal atherosclerotic lesions was both safe and feasible and was associated with clinically meaningful improvement on subjective and objective measures of erectile function. 
Under normal circumstances, when a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends a message down the spinal cord and into the nerves of the penis. The nerve endings in the penis release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that signal the corpora cavernosa (the two spongy rods of tissue that span the length of the penis) to relax and fill with blood. As they expand, the corpora cavernosa close off other veins that would normally drain blood from the penis. As the penis becomes engorged with blood, it enlarges and stiffens, causing an erection. Problems with blood vessels, nerves, or tissues of the penis can interfere with an erection.
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.
Your question reminds me of this brilliant Louis CK bit from his special Hilarious, in which he talks about a guy who said his appetizer was amazing. "Really? You were amazed by a basket of chicken wings? What if Jesus comes down from the sky and makes love to you all night long and leaves the new living lord in your belly? What are you going to call that? You used amazing on a basket of chicken wings! You've limited yourself verbally to a shit life."
Just as certain meds can make it difficult for men to have an orgasm, some can keep the flagpole from even getting raised in the first place. Anti-depressant medications like Prozac and Zoloft, anti-anxiety pills like Valium, high blood pressure medicine like Diuril, and even over-the-counter cold medicines like Sudafed and anti-heartburn pills like Zantac can inhibit erections.
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
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
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.
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.
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).