Erectile dysfunction is the inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough to allow penetration of the vagina, and therefore functional sexual intercourse. Generally, the term erectile dysfunction is applied if this occurs frequently (75% of the time) over a significant period if time (several weeks to months). If this is the case, the term impotence may also be used.
Parasympathetic input allows erection by relaxation of trabecular smooth muscle and dilation of the helicine arteries of the penis. This leads to expansion of the lacunar spaces and entrapment of blood by compressing venules against the tunica albuginea, a process referred to as the corporal veno-occlusive mechanism. The tunica albuginea must have sufficient stiffness to compress the venules penetrating it so that venous outflow is blocked and sufficient tumescence and rigidity can occur.
The Latin term impotentia coeundi describes simple inability to insert the penis into the vagina; it is now mostly replaced by more precise terms, such as erectile dysfunction (ED). The study of erectile dysfunction within medicine is covered by andrology, a sub-field within urology. Research indicates that erectile dysfunction is common, and it is suggested that approximately 40% of males with erectile dysfunction or impotence, at least occasionally. The condition is also on occasion called phallic impotence. Its antonym or opposite condition is priapism.
The health care provider will ask about the firmness and duration of erections at different times (e.g., sex with partners, erections after sleep). Discussing sexual dysfunction with a health care provider is very important because many conditions causing it can be successfully treated. If a man has no diseases that cause ED and can have an erection with masturbation or early morning awakening, he likely has ED due to psychological causes.
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The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.