Traditionally, erectile impotence (the classical definition of impotence) is the failure to achieve penile erection during intercourse. It may have either physical or psychological causes. Alcoholism, endocrine disease, and neurological disorders are typical physical causes. Psychological causes include anxiety over performance, hostility or other negative feelings toward the sexual partner, and stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional conflicts outside of the relationship. Erectile impotence occasionally occurs with age and, although attributed by the individual to the aging process itself, it is usually secondary to disorders of aging, such as faulty blood circulation or prostate disease. In cases of impotence caused by blood vessel dysfunction, an insufficient supply of blood flows into the penis, or the blood diffuses out into adjacent tissues.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
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.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Although erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, it is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Knowledge of the risk factors can guide prevention strategies. Specific antihypertensive, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs can be chosen to lessen the risk of erectile failure. Published lists of prescription drugs that may impair erectile functioning often are based on reports implicating a drug without systematic study. Such studies are needed to confirm the validity of these suggested associations. In the individual patient, the physician can modify the regimen in an effort to resolve the erectile problem.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. 
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.)
Lindsay Mitchell, ARNP is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and graduated with high honors from South University in Savannah, GA. She has a background in primary care, women’s health and focusing on evidence based practices. She has a strong passion for providing efficient and accessible patient care, along with caring for underserved patient populations. Prior to becoming an ARNP, she worked as a registered nurse in the emergency department in Jacksonville, Fl.
This inflatable penile prosthesis has 3 major components. The 2 cylinders are placed within the corpora cavernosa, a reservoir is placed beneath the rectus muscle, and the pump is placed in the scrotum. When the pump is squeezed, fluid from the reservoir is transferred into the 2 cylinders, producing a firm erection. The deflation mechanism is also located on the pump and differs by manufacturer.
The patient and partner must be well informed about all therapeutic options including their effectiveness, possible complications, and costs. As a general rule, the least invasive or dangerous procedures should be tried first. Psychotherapy and behavioral treatments and sexual counseling alone or in conjunction with other treatments may be used in all patients with erectile dysfunction who are willing to use this form of treatment. In patients in whom psychogenic erectile dysfunction is suspected, sexual counseling should be offered first. Invasive therapy should not be the primary treatment of choice. If history, physical, and screening endocrine evaluations are normal and nonpsychogenic erectile dysfunction is suspected, either vacuum devices or intracavernosal injection therapy can be offered after discussion with the patient and his partner. These latter two therapies may also be useful when combined with psychotherapy in those with psychogenic erectile dysfunction in whom psychotherapy alone has failed. Since further diagnostic testing does not reliably establish specific diagnoses or predict outcomes of therapy, vacuum devices or intracavernosal injections often are applied to a broad spectrum of etiologies of male erectile dysfunction.
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.
While pills for ED are convenient, some men sustain stronger erections by injecting medication directly into the penis. Drugs approved for this purpose work by widening the blood vessels, causing the penis to become engorged with blood. Another option is inserting a medicated pellet into the urethra. The pellet can trigger an erection within 10 minutes.