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.
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.
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.
It can also help to tell your partner (either before you start or when it happens) that hey, sometimes it takes your penis a while to warm up or sometimes it comes and goes as it pleases — and that they shouldn't take it personally and you won't let it ruin the moment. When it happens, take a few deep breaths, focus on your partner, and go back to doing whatever was feeling good before. "If they approach that with authentic confidence, the partner is usually like 'OK, cool,'" says Skyler. "Remember, you're more than just your penis."
If you are taking medications (alpha-blockers) for problems with an enlarged prostate, you should discuss your prostate medications with your doctor. Alpha-blockers also can cause lowering of the blood pressure. Thus your doctor will need to carefully watch your blood pressure when you start the PDE5 inhibitor. Common alpha-blockers include doxazosin (Cardura), terazosin (Hytrin), and tamsulosin (Flomax).
Risks associated with injection therapy including bleeding, pain with injection, penile pain, priapism, and corporal fibrosis (scarring inside of the corpora cavernosa). There is also concern that repetitive injections in the same area could cause scar tissue to build up in the tunica albuginea that could create penile curvature. Thus, doctors recommended that one alternate sides with injection and perform injections no more frequent than every other day.
So what do you do? If the guilt is too much, you can tell your boyfriend. It might be the only way to clear your conscience — and hopefully, if you explain the reasons why you did such a boneheaded thing, he'll understand. It will be hard and it may create drama for months to come, but my guess is that you can recover, if he's not a horribly jealous guy.
Years ago, the standard treatment for impotence was an implantable penile prosthesis or long-term psychotherapy. Although physical causes are now more readily diagnosed and treated, individual or marital counseling is still an effective treatment for impotence when emotional factors play a role. Fortunately, other approaches are now available to treat the physical causes of impotence.
In this study, ED proceeded CVD in almost 70% of cases. Similarly, many men with ED have been found to have pre-existing CVD. A study by Vlachopoulos et al evaluated the incidence of asymptomatic CVD in 50 men with ED.22 These authors found that 19% of men with ED had asymptomatic CVD. Similarly, Mulhall and colleagues found that 20% of men presenting with ED and vascular insufficiency on penile duplex had asymptomatic CVD.23
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is the inability of a male to attain and keep an erection sufficiently firm to engage in or complete sexual intercourse. Although it is more common in older men, impotence can occur at any age. Impotence is not a normal consequence of aging. About 70% of erectile dysfunction is due to diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis, another 10% to 20% is due to psychological factors, and the remaining percentage is related to medications, lifestyle factors, and injury (Source: NIDDK).
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. 
Obesity and metabolic syndrome can cause changes in blood pressure, body composition, and cholesterol which may lead to ED. Other conditions that may contribute to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Taking certain medications can also increase your risk for ED.
Examination of the vascular system is particularly relevant to the evaluation of the impotent patient. Absence of pulses in the feet and presence of femoral bruits suggest atherosclerosis. However, normal femoral and pedal pulses do not exclude selective obstruction to penile blood flow. Direct palpation of the dorsal artery of the penis may be informative if pulsation is absent. The presence of a pulse, however, does not rule out vascular disease, particularly in a patient who is able to achieve normal erections at rest, but unable to maintain them during thrusting. At the same time that the penile pulses are palpated, the examiner should feel for plaques in the corpora cavernosa which would indicate Peyronie's disease.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.