The first step in treating the patient with ED is to take a thorough sexual, medical, and psychosocial history. Questionnaires are available to assist clinicians in obtaining important patient data. (See Presentation.) Successful treatment of sexual dysfunction has been demonstrated to improve sexual intimacy and satisfaction, improve sexual aspects of quality of life, improve overall quality of life, and relieve symptoms of depression. (See Treatment.)
Many factors can contribute to sexual dysfunction in older men, including physical and psychological conditions, comorbidities and the medications used to treat them. Aspects of an ageing man’s lifestyle and behaviour and androgen deficiency, most often decreasing testosterone levels, may affect sexual function as well. A study of men between the ages of 30 and 79 years showed that 24% had testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL and 5.6% had symptomatic androgen deficiency.2
Ultrasound with Doppler imaging (ultrasound plus evaluation of blood flow in the arteries and veins) can provide additional information about blood flow of the penis and may help in the evaluation of patients prior to surgical intervention. This study is typically performed after the injection of a chemical that causes the arteries to open up, a vasodilator (prostaglandin E1), into the corpora cavernosa in order to cause dilation of blood vessels and promote blood flow into the penis. The rate of blood flow into the penis can be measured along with an evaluation of problems with compression of the veins.
Impotence is the inability to get and keep an erection hard enough to have sex. Many men experience difficulties getting an erection when they are tired or stressed. This is normal and it doesn’t require treatment. However, if you encounter problems that persist, you may be suffering with a degree of impotence. Impotence is a very treatable condition and help is available either when you visit your local GP or an online doctor.
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 These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form.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.
Most older men suffer not ED but erection dissatisfaction. Starting around age 50 (often earlier among smokers and/or diabetics), erections change. In some men, the process is gradual, in others, it happens more quickly. Either way, older men lose the ability to raise erections solely from sexual fantasies. Direct fondling of the penis becomes necessary. When erections appear, they rise more slowly and do not become as firm as they were during men’s thirties and forties. And minor distractions may cause wilting—the doorbell or an ambulance siren. These changes alarm many men, who jump to the conclusion that they must have ED. If you can still raise erection durings masturbation, you don’t. What you have is erection dissatisfaction.
Vacuum constriction devices may be effective at generating and maintaining erections in many patients with erectile dysfunction and these appear to have a low incidence of side effects. As with intracavernosal injection therapy, there is a significant rate of patient dropout with these devices, and the reasons for this phenomenon are unclear. The devices are difficult for some patients to use, and this is especially so in those with impaired manual dexterity. Also, these devices may impair ejaculation, which can then cause some discomfort. Patients and their partners sometimes are bothered by the lack of spontaneity in sexual relations that may occur with this procedure. The patient is sometimes also bothered by the general discomfort that can occur while using these devices. Partner involvement in training with these devices may be important for successful outcome, especially in regard to establishing a mutually satisfying level of sexual activity.
The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.
You’ve heard of—and probably experienced—the numbing effect alcohol has on your mind, body, and (unfortunately) penis. If you fail to rise to the occasion on a regular basis and you're drinking has gone from occassional weekend binge to a Monday through Friday ordeal, consider cutting back—way back. Heavy drinking proportionately increases your risk of ED, according to research from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.
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.
There are also alternative treatments, such as using a penis pump or a penile injection. Penis pumps work by creating a vacuum and thereby causing more blood to flow to your penis. Penile injections need to be used shortly before intercourse. They contain a medication which widens your blood vessels. A doctor’s prescription is needed for the injections.
Depression and anxiety: Psychological factors may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. These factors include stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, widower syndrome, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear of sexual failure (performance anxiety). It is also worth noting that many medications used for treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders may cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems.
Picture this: you have the girl of your dreams laid out before you. You’re kissing and things are getting hot and heavy. There’s just one problem: you can’t get hard. Your thoughts quickly turn from “this is amazing” to “this is a disaster,” and before you know it, the story of your floppy dick is making its way down your lover’s social circle. That is if she’s an insensitive gossip. Either way, not being able to get a boner when the time is right is beyond embarrassing.
Men who wear tight underwear may also experience the same problems. Because of the constriction, feeling may be lost, and even if unnoticed actively, the brain will notice. This is part of the complication with erectile dysfunction between the brain and the body. While you may be in the mood, if the proper electrical signals are not sent back and forth, nothing will happen.
Circulatory problems: An erection occurs when the penis fills with blood and a valve at the base of the penis traps it. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, clots, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can all interfere with this process. Such circulatory problems are the number one cause of erectile dysfunction. Frequently, erectile dysfunction is the first noticeable symptom of cardiovascular disease.