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 symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Accurate statistics are lacking on how many men are affected by the condition because it is often underreported, but it is estimated that about half of men over 40 in Canada have frequent problems achieving or maintaining an erection. The number of men suffering from erectile dysfunction increases with age, but it is not considered a normal part of aging. The majority of cases can be successfully treated.
Aging, liver and kidney problems, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic] and protease inhibitors for HIV) slows the metabolism (breakdown) of sildenafil. Slowed breakdown allows sildenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially may increase the risk of side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age, in men with significant kidney and liver disease, and in men who also are taking medications called protease inhibitors, the doctor will initiate sildenafil at a lower dose (25 mg) to avoid accumulation of sildenafil in the body. A protease inhibitor ritonavir (Norvir) is especially potent in increasing the accumulation of sildenafil, thus men who are taking Norvir should not take sildenafil doses higher than 25 mg and at a frequency of no greater than once in 48 hours. Other medications that may affect the level of sildenafil include erythromycin and ketoconazole.
Injection of vasodilator substances into the corpora of the penis has provided a new therapeutic technique for a variety of causes of erectile dysfunction. The most effective and well-studied agents are papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E[sub 1]. These have been used either singly or in combination. Use of these agents occasionally causes priapism (inappropriately persistent erections). This appears to have been seen most commonly with papaverine. Priapism is treated with adrenergic agents, which can cause life-threatening hypertension in patients receiving monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Use of the penile vasodilators also can be problematic in patients who cannot tolerate transient hypotension, those with severe psychiatric disease, those with poor manual dexterity, those with poor vision, and those receiving anticoagulant therapy. Liver function tests should be obtained in those being treated with papaverine alone. Prostaglandin E[sub 1] can be used together with papaverine and phentolamine to decrease the incidence of side effects such as pain, penile corporal fibrosis, fibrotic nodules, hypotension, and priapism. Further study of the efficacy of multitherapy versus monotherapy and of the relative complications and safety of each approach is indicated. Although these agents have not received FDA approval for this indication, they are in widespread clinical use. Patients treated with these agents should give full informed consent. There is a high rate of patient dropout, often early in the treatment. Whether this is related to side effects, lack of spontaneity in sexual relations, or general loss of interest is unclear. Patient education and followup support might improve compliance and lessen the dropout rate. However, the reasons for the high dropout rate need to be determined and quantified.
In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.
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To examine what is known about the demographics, etiology, risk factors, pathophysiology, diagnostic assessment, treatments (both generic and cause-specific), and the understanding of their consequences by the public and the medical community, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the Office of Medical Applications of Research of the National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging, convened a consensus development conference on male impotence on December 7-9, 1992. After 1 1/2 days of presentations by experts in the relevant fields involved with male sexual dysfunction and erectile impotence or dysfunction, a consensus panel comprised of representatives from urology, geriatrics, medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, psychology, nursing, epidemiology, biostatistics, basic sciences, and the public considered the evidence and developed answers to the questions that follow.
Psychotherapy, marital counseling, or sex therapy may be helpful in treating cases of impotence that have psychological or emotional causes. A range of other treatments exists for cases of impotence that arise from purely physiological causes. These treatments include vacuum devices, penile injections, and penile implants. These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form. This drug works by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that, upon sexual stimulation, is normally released to widen the blood vessels supplying the penis. The increased flow of blood through those vessels into certain tissues in the penis causes an erection. See also sexual dysfunction.
Damage to the autonomic pathways innervating the penis may eliminate "psychogenic" erection initiated by the central nervous system. Lesions of the somatic nervous pathways may impair reflexogenic erections and may interrupt tactile sensation needed to maintain psychogenic erections. Spinal cord lesions may produce varying degrees of erectile failure depending on the location and completeness of the lesions. Not only do traumatic lesions affect erectile ability, but disorders leading to peripheral neuropathy may impair neuronal innervation of the penis or of the sensory afferents. The endocrine system itself, particularly the production of androgens, appears to play a role in regulating sexual interest, and may also play a role in erectile function.

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Look, ED can have many causes. Most of the time, it’s physiological. But there are also lots of psychological reasons why someone may experience ED. Treating ED isn’t all about medication. Dealing with some of these psychological issues can help you battle ED, too. I’m talking about depression, anxiety, loss of desire, sense of inadequacy, guilt, fatigue, anger, relationship dysfunction. Working through these types of psychological challenges can help you achieve the happy, healthy manhood you deserve.
This is a completely legitimate and rational fear that disrupts a man’s ability to become aroused. If a man is not ready for a child and you are not on birth control, there is always a chance you could conceive. If you are new to one another, he doesn’t know for certain if you are a carrier of a disease. This is where the physiological and the psychological partner up and shut it down, to protect their dude.
If you can keep an erection when you’re alone, then you’re probably worried about something when you’re with your partner. Think about how you feel and then talk to your partner about your concerns. You might be putting too much pressure on yourself or not protecting yourself by using condoms and birth control. Or maybe you’ll discover that you’re really not ready for sex right now and need to wait until it feels right.
By contrast, psychogenic impotence typically is abrupt in onset, often in relation to psychological trauma, and may wax and wane. Patients with psychogenic impotence may have total erectile failure with one partner but not another, or be impotent during sexual intercourse but not during self-stimulation. Normally occurring spontaneous erections in the morning suggest psychogenic rather than organic causes for impotence.
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.

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.
Yeah, because in some cases, things had settled down after the guy couldn't get it up any longer and the wife might even have been relieved. Typically, at the stage of life when ED hits, many women are in menopause and have vaginal dryness and pain, which could especially be a problem after a long period of no intercourse because of the guy's ED. And so when he suddenly wants to have intercourse like a 20-year-old every day after taking Viagra, it's the last thing the wife wanted. Or as has happened in some cases, the wife thinks the erection is "fake" -- it's just "chemical" and doesn't really represent his attraction for her. Any excuse to avoid vaginal pain and dryness problems, if not just plain disinterest in sex.
Thanks to over a decade of primetime television commercials, most of us can name at least one drug that treats erectile problems. However, far fewer of us can name drugs that may actually cause the problem. In reality, MedlinePlus reported that there are far more of these, and even common drugs such those to treat depression and heartburn can make it difficult to get an erection.
#6 It’s performance anxiety. Many men suffer from performance anxiety, and that’s another reason you can’t get hard. Simply put, you’re too nervous to get your dick up. And that’s okay, it happens! This is likely to happen if you haven’t had sex in a while or if you’re starting up with a new partner. Sex is supposed to be fun, but worrying over your prowess between the sheets can make sex the exact opposite of what’s it’s supposed to be. [Read: 13 ways to overcome sexual anxiety and perform]

Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
It is essential to discuss erectile dysfunction with your doctor, so any serious underlying causes can be excluded and treatment options can be discussed. Many men are embarrassed discussing this issue with their doctor, or even their partner. Open communication with your doctor, and in your relationship, is important for effectively managing this common problem.

The association between low testosterone and ED is not entirely clear. Although these 2 processes certainly overlap in some instances, they are distinct entities. Some 2-21% of men have both hypogonadism and ED; however, it is unclear to what degree treating the former will improve erectile function. [17] About 35-40% of men with low testosterone see an improvement in their erections with testosterone replacement; however, almost 65% of these men see no improvement. [15]
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 circulatory system plays a central role in obtaining and sustaining erections. Augmentation of blood flow to the corporal bodies depends on the intravascular pressure in the penile artery. Vascular lesions—typically atherosclerotic, but occasionally fibrotic—and systemic hypotension will limit flow to the corpora. In certain patients, blood flow at rest may be sufficient to obtain an erection but not sufficient to maintain it during intercourse, when the pelvic musculature places greater demands on a compromised blood supply.
Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, curtailing excessive alcohol consumption, controlling hypertension, and optimizing blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes are not only important for maintaining good health but also may improve or even prevent progression of erectile dysfunction. It is unclear if such lifestyle changes can reverse erectile dysfunction. However, lifestyle improvements may prevent progression of the erectile dysfunction. Some studies suggest that men who have made lifestyle improvements experience increased rates of success with oral medications.
Kimberly Hildebrant, ARNP is a board certified Family Nurse practitioner. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Pittsburgh and a Masters in Nursing from Duquesne University. She has practiced as a nurse practitioner in the field of Infectious Disease as well as HIV for 4 years. She has over 13 years of experience as a critical care nurse. Kimberly is passionate about providing affordable healthcare to all individuals to ensure that all can live their best life. She is an advocate for preventative care and early treatment to avoid lasting illness.
The risk of impotence increases with age. It is four-fold higher in men in their 60s compared with those in their 40s according to a study published in the Journal of Urology (2000;163:460-463). Men with less education are also more likely to experience impotence, perhaps because they tend to have less healthy lifestyles, eat a less healthy diet, drink more and exercise less. Physical exercise tends to lessen the risk of impotence.
The most important organic causes of impotence are cardiovascular disease and diabetes, neurological problems (for example, trauma from prostatectomy surgery), hormonal insufficiencies (hypogonadism) and drug side effects. Psychological impotence is where erection or penetration fails due to thoughts or feelings (psychological reasons) rather than physical impossibility; this is somewhat less frequent but can often be helped. In psychological impotence, there is a strong response to placebo treatment.
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology

Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
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