If a man's arteries become blocked with cholesterol – as a result of genetics, and/or lifestyle factors such as smoking, a poor diet and lack of exercise – it will affect the vessels all over his body. The arteries supplying the penis are relatively small, just 1-2mm wide, and so they become blocked more quickly than others. The blood flow to the area is reduced, meaning erections become more difficult.
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 These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form.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.
Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Fact is, almost all men experience erection problems from time to time. Sometimes it's a temporary condition that will go away with just power of mind or little treatment. But unfortunately in many cases it may be an ongoing problem. Whatever it is, if you don't want to eventually destroy your self esteem and harm relationship with your lover, immediate treatment is required.
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.
Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20
The role of the endothelium in erectile function became clearer with the observation that the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor, sildenafil, enhanced erectile function. Erection occurs with the release of nitric oxide (NO) from the vascular endothelial cells.17 The reduction in endothelial cell production of NO results in the negative impact on the smooth muscles in the corporal bodies and results in less relaxation of the smooth muscle cells with decrease in blood supply and resulting ED. A similar phenomenon is well known to impact the coronary arterial system resulting in CVD.
Injection of vasodilator substances into the corpora of the penis has provided a new therapeutic technique for a variety of causes of erectile dysfunction. The most effective and well-studied agents are papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E[sub 1]. These have been used either singly or in combination. Use of these agents occasionally causes priapism (inappropriately persistent erections). This appears to have been seen most commonly with papaverine. Priapism is treated with adrenergic agents, which can cause life-threatening hypertension in patients receiving monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Use of the penile vasodilators also can be problematic in patients who cannot tolerate transient hypotension, those with severe psychiatric disease, those with poor manual dexterity, those with poor vision, and those receiving anticoagulant therapy. Liver function tests should be obtained in those being treated with papaverine alone. Prostaglandin E[sub 1] can be used together with papaverine and phentolamine to decrease the incidence of side effects such as pain, penile corporal fibrosis, fibrotic nodules, hypotension, and priapism. Further study of the efficacy of multitherapy versus monotherapy and of the relative complications and safety of each approach is indicated. Although these agents have not received FDA approval for this indication, they are in widespread clinical use. Patients treated with these agents should give full informed consent. There is a high rate of patient dropout, often early in the treatment. Whether this is related to side effects, lack of spontaneity in sexual relations, or general loss of interest is unclear. Patient education and followup support might improve compliance and lessen the dropout rate. However, the reasons for the high dropout rate need to be determined and quantified.
For many men, there is no direct factor involved in erectile dysfunction other than the natural process or aging. As men age, the testosterone hormone decreases in productivity and circulation. Basically, the body is saying that the man has done his job, especially if he has had children. During this time of drawdown on testosterone, men may experience weaker erections, more difficulty in achieving erections, and more difficulty in maintaining erections.
In patients with low testosterone, testosterone treatment can improve libido and erectile dysfunction, but many men still may need additional oral medications such as sildenafil, vardenafil, or tadalafil. Some studies suggest that men with ED and low testosterone may respond better to PDE5 inhibitors when given testosterone therapy; however, this is controversial.
Patients should continue testosterone therapy only if there is improvement in the symptoms of hypogonadism and should be monitored regularly. You will need periodic blood tests for testosterone levels and blood tests to monitor your blood count and PSA. Testosterone therapy has health risks, and thus doctors should closely monitor its use. Testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.
In men of all ages, erectile failure may diminish willingness to initiate sexual relationships because of fear of inadequate sexual performance or rejection. Because males, especially older males, are particularly sensitive to the social support of intimate relationships, withdrawal from these relationships because of such fears may have a negative effect on their overall health.
Because of the difficulty in defining the clinical entity of erectile dysfunction, there have been a variety of entry criteria for patients in therapeutic trials. Similarly, the ability to assess efficacy of therapeutic interventions is impaired by the lack of clear and quantifiable criteria of erectile dysfunction. General considerations for treatment follow:
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
The most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. These include tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and sildenafil citrate (Viagra). These are effective for about 75% of men with erectile dysfunction. They are tablets that are taken around an hour before sex, and last between 4 and 36 hours. Sexual stimulation is required before an erection will occur. The PDE-5 inhibitors cause dilation of blood vessels in the penis to allow erection to occur, and help it to stay rigid. Men using nitrate medication (e.g. GTN spray or sublingual tablets for angina) should not use PDE-5 inhibitors.
Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems. Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
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).
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
Erectile dysfunction can have so many long-lasting effects that the inability to achieve an erection is almost the least of them. Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction often suffer from self-esteem concerns, and these can then translate into issues regarding sexual relationships, friendships, and even work-related relationships. As things begin to spiral out of control, men dealing with erectile dysfunction may go on to suffer from depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems that further inhibit relationship and sexual intimacy. So what is it that’s causing this mess?
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Measurement of the penile vibration perception threshold provides an inexpensive, reproducible, and painless screening test with acceptable sensitivity for detecting neuropathy. Abnormalities at the level of the sacral cord can be documented by sacral latency testing, while upper motor neuron impotence can be demonstrated with genital-cerebral evoked response testing. These latter procedures are not indicated in unselected patients with impotence.
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.
The following products are considered to be alternative treatments or natural remedies for Erectile Dysfunction. Their efficacy may not have been scientifically tested to the same degree as the drugs listed in the table above. However there may be historical, cultural or anecdotal evidence linking their use to the treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.
Erection is a vascular event. The penis becomes rigid when blood flow to the corpora cavernosa increases sixfold and venous outflow is physiologically impeded. Penile perfusion is governed by three organ systems—the neurologic, circulatory, and endocrinologic systems—each necessary for potency. The neurologic system accounts for vasodilation and venoconstriction of the corporal blood vessels so that blood is shunted to the erectile tissues; the circulatory system provides adequate blood flow to the hypogastric-cavernous bed, a distal branch off the internal iliac vessels; and the endocrine system, mediated by testosterone, plays a permissive role through mechanisms that have yet to be elucidated.
Stop trying to force the erection - it’s not possible to give yourself an erection just by trying hard enough, if it were then you wouldn’t be reading this. An erection is known as an ‘unconscious response’, meaning you can’t control it by thinking about it. In fact focusing on your erection too much is more likely to block it, so try instead to focus something else, such as:
Your erection problems may be putting a strain on your relationship. You may have stopped touching and cuddling your partner, scared that it could lead to sex - and then to disappointment because you cannot get hard. You may have found it has led to regular arguments. At its worst, erection problems can lead to the breakdown of relationships. So it is vitally important to talk things over with your partner.
In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.