Constriction of the trabecular smooth muscle and helicine arteries induced by sympathetic innervation makes the penis flaccid, with blood pressure in the cavernosal sinuses of the penis near venous pressure. Acetylcholine is thought to decrease sympathetic tone. This may be important in a permissive sense for adequate trabecular smooth muscle relaxation and consequent effective action of other mediators in achieving sufficient inflow of blood into the lacunar spaces. When the trabecular smooth muscle relaxes and helicine arteries dilate in response to parasympathetic stimulation and decreased sympathetic tone, increased blood flow fills the cavernous spaces, increasing the pressure within these spaces so that the penis becomes erect. As the venules are compressed against the tunica albuginea, penile pressure approaches arterial pressure, causing rigidity. Once this state is achieved, arterial inflow is reduced to a level that matches venous outflow.
Many common medications for treating hypertension, depression, and high blood lipids (high cholesterol) can contribute to erectile dysfunction (see above). Treatment of hypertension is an example. There are many different types (classes) of medications for high blood pressure; these include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics (medications that increase urine volume), angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). Patients may use these medications alone or in combination to control blood pressure. Some of these medications can cause troubles with erections. For example, Inderal (a beta-blocker) and hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) cause erectile dysfunction, while calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors do not seem to affect erectile function. On the other hand, other medications (such as angiotensin receptor blockers [ARB] including losartan [Cozaar] and valsartan [Diovan]) may actually help with erections. Therefore, if possible, you may benefit from changing your medications, but this requires approval by your prescribing health care provider.
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
You should talk to your doctor about possible treatments. You may want to talk to other patients who have had the treatment planned for you. You also may want to seek a second doctor's opinion about surgery before making your decision. You may find it difficult to talk to your doctor about impotence. You will want to find a doctor who treats this condition and will help you feel comfortable talking about the problem and choosing the best treatment. You can also get more information by contacting your local National Kidney Foundation affiliate.
Prostate cancer isn’t considered a cause of ED on its own, but radiation treatments, hormone therapy, and surgery to remove the entire prostate gland can lead to difficulty in getting or keeping an erection. Sometimes erectile dysfunction related to prostate cancer treatment is only temporary, but many guys experience ongoing difficulties that need to be addressed by other means.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).
An analysis of 14 studies involving more than 90,000 patients with ED confirmed the relation between ED and an increased risk of cardiovascular events and mortality.  Compared with patients without ED, those with ED had a 44% increased risk of cardiovascular events, a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality, a 62% increased risk of MI, and a 39% increased risk of cerebrovascular events. Treatment of ED, either through lifestyle interventions or by pharmacologic means, may improve prognosis and reduce risk.
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.
The lab testing obtained for the evaluation of erectile dysfunction may vary with the information obtained on the health history, physical examination, and recent lab testing. A testosterone level is not necessary in all men; however, a physician will order labs to determine a patient's testosterone level if other signs and symptoms of hypogonadism (low testosterone) such as decreased libido, loss of body hair, muscle loss, breast enlargement, osteoporosis, infertility, and decreased penile/testicular size are present.
Erectile dysfunction is often assumed to be a natural concomitant of the aging process, to be tolerated along with other conditions associated with aging. This assumption may not be entirely correct. For the elderly and for others, erectile dysfunction may occur as a consequence of specific illnesses or of medical treatment for certain illnesses, resulting in fear, loss of image and self-confidence, and depression.
Did you know that erectile dysfunction precedes coronary artery disease in almost 70 percent of cases.2 The arteries in the penis are smaller than those that cause heart disease symptoms, which means they are likely to be affected by blockages sooner. When the arteries in the penis are blocked, keeping an erection will be difficult regardless of your level of arousal.
Christine graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in English Literature. Shortly after she completed a Post Baccalaureate certificate in Pre-health professions and started her journey in healthcare! Christine is currently completing her Master of Science in Health Care Administration at California State University East Bay and will graduate in June of 2018. She has prior experience working and volunteering in various hospital and health care settings including nephrology, post-surgery geriatrics, cardiac electrophysiology, and orthopedics. Christine is excited to be a part of the Lemonaid team and contributing towards their mission of providing accessible health care to all. On her spare time Christine enjoys running, Olympic lifting, and visiting all of the national parks in the United States!
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:
You get to decide what is normal for you. That might include him still experiencing pleasure from you touching his penis even if he’s not hard. Some men can still orgasm without an erection. Or he may prefer not to have any touching while he is dealing with his erection problems. It is okay for you to orgasm even if he doesn’t. Reading about what might bring you pleasure, or considering how you think about sex can make this something enjoyable to explore together.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.