Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men. Although for some men erectile function may not be the best or most important measure of sexual satisfaction, for many men erectile dysfunction creates mental stress that affects their interactions with family and associates. Many advances have occurred in both diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction. However, its various aspects remain poorly understood by the general population and by most health care professionals. Lack of a simple definition, failure to delineate precisely the problem being assessed, and the absence of guidelines and parameters to determine assessment and treatment outcome and long-term results, have contributed to this state of affairs by producing misunderstanding, confusion, and ongoing concern. That results have not been communicated effectively to the public has compounded this situation.
Stress is your body responding to your environment. And it’s a good thing—in limited doses. When you get stressed out your body makes chemicals like adrenaline that make you stronger, faster, fitter, and even able to think more clearly. Most people call this reaction the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s a life-saver in dangerous situations. In a very real sense, adrenaline makes you a part-time superhero. The problems happen when your body deals with constant stress.
On the horizon is gene therapy that would deliver genes that produce products or proteins that may not be functioning properly in the penile tissue of men with ED. Replacement of these proteins may result in improvement in erectile function. Experimental animal models have demonstrated improvement in erectile function with gene therapy. Human studies may also demonstrate success with this therapy. Gene therapy may take a long time for regulatory approval and public acceptance.
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.
Little is known about the natural history of erectile dysfunction. This includes information on the age of onset, incidence rates stratified by age, progression of the condition, and frequency of spontaneous recovery. There also are very limited data on associated morbidity and functional impairment. To date, the data are predominantly available for whites, with other racial and ethnic populations represented only in smaller numbers that do not permit analysis of these issues as a function of race or ethnicity.
An initial approach to medical therapy should consider reversible medical problems that may contribute to erectile dysfunction. Included in this should be assessment of the possibility of medication-induced erectile dysfunction with consideration for reduction of polypharmacy and/or substitution of medications with lower probability of inducing erectile dysfunction.
In addition, a man affected by lower testosterone may feel less sexually inclined, less interested in viewing sexual material, and less interested in physical activities. To add to this, a man dealing with less testosterone may also become less assertive, more inclined to stay in, and more likely to seek out medical help for his erectile dysfunction.
Davis Liu, MD is a board certified family physician, patient advocate, physician leader, blogger, and the author of two books, including The Thrifty Patient – Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy. He’s passionate about making healthcare more convenient, personalized, and affordable. Prior to joining, Dr. Liu was a practicing primary-care doctor for fifteen years at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, California. He also served on the Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) Board of Directors as Vice Chair of the Finance and Audit committee and the Governance committee. Dr. Liu graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
The male erectile response is a vascular event initiated by neuronal action and maintained by a complex interplay between vascular and neurological events. In its most common form, it is initiated by a central nervous system event that integrates psychogenic stimuli (perception, desire, etc.) and controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of the penis. Sensory stimuli from the penis are important in continuing this process and in initiating a reflex arc that may cause erection under proper circumstances and may help to maintain erection during sexual activity.
A vacuum erection device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. This type of device is sometimes referred to as penis pump and may be used just prior to sexual intercourse. Several types of FDA approved vacuum therapy devices are available with a doctor's prescription. When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to the penis to maintain it. These pumps should be distinguished from other penis pumps (supplied without compression rings) which, rather than being used for temporary treatment of impotence, are claimed to increase penis length if used frequently, or vibrate as an aid to masturbation. More drastically, inflatable or rigid penile implants may be fitted surgically.
Conditions that may be associated with ED include diabetes, [25, 26, 27] hypertension,  , and CAD, as well as neurologic disorders, endocrinopathies, benign prostatic hyperplasia,  , sleep apnea  , COPD,  and depression (see Table 1 below). [32, 33, 34, 35] In fact, almost any disease may affect erectile function by altering the nervous, vascular, or hormonal systems. Various diseases may produce changes in the smooth muscle tissue of the corpora cavernosa or influence the patient’s psychological mood and behavior.
If PDE-5 inhibitors are not suitable or don’t work, other therapies include injections into the base of the penis, which cause flow of blood into the penis and a fairly immediate erection that lasts around an hour. The drugs injected are alprostadil (Caverject and Erectile dysfunctionex) and Invicorp (VIP and phentolamine). Alprostadil may also be inserted as a gel into the opening of the penis. This is not suitable if your partner is pregnant.
Medications: Many common medicines produce erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include many used to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants. Examples of common medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include propranolol (Inderal) or other beta-blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, digoxin (Lanoxin), amitriptyline (Elavil), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), metoclopramide (Reglan), naproxen, indomethacin (Indocin), lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), verapamil (Calan, Verelan, Isoptin), phenytoin (Dilantin), gemfibrozil (Lopid), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and phentermine. Prostate cancer medications that lower testosterone levels such as leuprolide (Lupron) may affect erectile function. Some chemotherapies such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may affect erectile function.
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.
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But the main challenge to finding the best ED drug for you may turn out to be health insurance rules—not biochemistry. It's a common practice among insurers to limit the number of pills you can obtain per month. After you hit your limit, the out-of-pocket cost for a single pill can be as high as $20. "The main obstacle in my practice is the cost," Dr. Liou says. You'll need to work with your doctor to get the pill you need at a price you can afford.
ED may occur with or without other sexual dysfunction, including decreased libido (decreased interest in sexual activity), orgasmic dysfunction (troubles achieving an orgasm/climax), and ejaculatory dysfunction (problems with the fluid released during sex, including lack of ejaculation [anejaculation], small volume ejaculate, ejaculation that occurs too quickly [premature ejaculation], ejaculate that goes backward into the bladder [retrograde ejaculation] and pain with ejaculation).