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.)
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.
For younger men, erection problems usually go hand-in-hand with anxiety. It goes something like this. He fancies you and wants to turn you on. But he’s also worried he might not get, or keep, his erection (particularly if he really likes you and/or if this has been a problem in past relationships). These worries mean that when you try and have sex he doesn’t get hard at all, or loses his erection when he tries to penetrate you.
It's unlikely. Testosterone levels fall as you get older but they have to fall really low to cause erectile problems. Thus assessment for erectile dysfunction includes a testosterone blood test but only replacement if it is very low. Giving someone more testosterone than their body would have made, even at a young age, can cause blood clots due to blood thickening and even reversible infertility. So don't be tempted with homespun remedies.

Remember those cultural messages we discussed earlier, about how men are wild sex aliens from the planet Weenus? Well, men are raised hearing those messages, too, and they can end up screwing with their sexual self-image —for instance, they can lead men to obsess over their own virility, and panic about impressing a new partner, until they've thought their boner into a corner and can't get an erection. Performance anxiety is one of the most common culprits behind lost erections, especially among younger, less experienced men.
There have been rare reports of priapism (prolonged and painful erections lasting more than six hours) with the use of PDE5 inhibitors such as sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. Patients with blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and multiple myeloma have higher than normal risks of developing priapism. Untreated priapism can cause injury to the penis and lead to permanent impotence. Therefore, if your erection lasts four hours, you should seek emergency medical care.

"One couple came to see me, and when I asked the man how long he'd had erectile dysfunction, he told me it had been happening for five years. His wife looked at him and said: 'But this is the first I've heard of this.'" He adds that Viagra-type drugs can mask the problem, and many men still buy them online to avoid talking to their doctor about their difficulties in the bedroom. As a result, their risk of heart attack is never picked up.


Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
Erections occur in response to tactile, olfactory, and visual stimuli. The ability to achieve and maintain a full erection depends not only on the penile portion of the process but also on the status of the peripheral nerves, the integrity of the vascular supply, and biochemical events within the corpora. The autonomic nervous system is involved in erection, orgasm, and tumescence. The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily involved in sustaining and maintaining an erection, which is derived from S2-S4 nerve roots.
This process comprises a variety of physical aspects with important psychological and behavioral overtones. In analyzing the material presented and discussed at this conference, this consensus statement addresses issues of male erectile dysfunction, as implied by the term "impotence." However, it should be recognized that desire, orgasmic capability, and ejaculatory capacity may be intact even in the presence of erectile dysfunction or may be deficient to some extent and contribute to the sense of inadequate sexual function.
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme. [24] The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
Sildenafil is available as oral tablets at doses of 25 mg, 50 mg, and 100 mg. Patients should take sildenafil approximately one hour before sexual activity. In some men, the onset of action of the drug may be as early as 11-20 minutes. It's best for men to take sildenafil on an empty stomach for best results since absorption and effectiveness of sildenafil can be diminished if it is taken shortly after a meal, particularly a meal that is high in fat. Sildenafil and the other PDE5 inhibitors don't cause an immediate erection. Sexual stimulation is necessary for these medications to work.
NO is produced by the enzyme NO synthase (NOS). [13] NOS plays many roles, ranging from homeostasis to immune system regulation. To date, 3 subtypes have been identified: nNOS, iNOS, and eNOS, which are produced by the genes NOS1, NOS2, and NOS3, respectively. This nomenclature is derived from the sources of the original isolates: neuronal tissue (nNOS), immunoactivated macrophage cell lines (iNOS), and vascular endothelium (eNOS). The subtypes are not, however, limited to the tissues from which they were first isolated.
The National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Impotence was convened to address (1) the prevalence and clinical, psychological, and social impact of erectile dysfunction; (2) the risk factors for erectile dysfunction and how they might be used in preventing its development; (3) the need for and appropriate diagnostic assessment and evaluation of patients with erectile dysfunction; (4) the efficacies and risks of behavioral, pharmacological, surgical, and other treatments for erectile dysfunction; (5) strategies for improving public and professional awareness and knowledge of erectile dysfunction; and (6) future directions for research in prevention, diagnosis, and management of erectile dysfunction. Following 2 days of presentations by experts and discussion by the audience, a consensus panel weighed the evidence and prepared their consensus statement.

The neurologic pathways required for erection originate in the cerebral cortex where visual, auditory, and psychic stimuli are processed, and in the pudenal nerve, an afferent nerve that transmits tactile sensations from the genitals to the sacral segments of the spinal cord and cortex. Efferent signals from the spinal cord pass along the pelvic parasympathetic nerves and dilate the corporal vessels. The specific neurotransmitters have not been fully defined; acetylcholine, and perhaps vasoactive intestinal peptide, appears to be important. There are many causes of neurogenic impotence. Anything that disrupts neural pathways or blocks neurochemical transmission will have an adverse effect on erection. Psychologic factors probably interfere with erection by inhibiting corticosacral efferent pathways.
Among their findings, the panel concluded that (1) the term "erectile dysfunction" should replace the term "impotence"; (2) the likelihood of erectile dysfunction increases with age but is not an inevitable consequence of aging; (3) embarrassment of patients and reluctance of both patients and health care providers to discuss sexual matters candidly contribute to underdiagnosis of erectile dysfunction; (4) many cases of erectile dysfunction can be successfully managed with appropriately selected therapy; (5) the diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction must be specific and responsive to the individual patient's needs and that compliance as well as the desires and expectations of both the patient and partner are important considerations in selecting appropriate therapy; (6) education of health care providers and the public on aspects of human sexuality, sexual dysfunction, and the availability of successful treatments is essential; and (7) erectile dysfunction is an important public health problem deserving of increased support for basic science investigation and applied research.

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


Thanks for your question, Frightened Turtle! To help answer it, we spoke with Dr. Darius Paduch, urologist and male sexual medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and sex therapist Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute for sex and relationship therapy in Boulder, Colorado. Here's what they had to say:

It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme. [24] The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
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.
Some may use alcohol as a way to get into the mood and overcome some of the nerves associated with having sex, but too much of a good thing can actually backfire. In fact, having a long history of alcohol abuse may lead to long-term erectile dysfunction. As many as 70 percent of men with chronic erectile dysfunction also have a history of alcohol abuse.
There are, as you listen to all of the advertisements, if your erection lasts for more than four hours, there are very, very unusual cases where that can happen. There are very rare cases of visual problems. There are even rarer cases of hearing problems. But with every medication, there always a potential downside. But the absolute contraindication is an unstable medical condition, an unstable cardiovascular condition, being on nitrates.

There are no formal tests to diagnose erectile dysfunction. Some blood tests are generally done to exclude underlying disease, such as hypogonadism and prolactinoma. Impotence is also related to generally poor physical health, poor dietary habits, obesity, and most specifically cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease. Therefore, a thorough physical examination is helpful, in particular the simple search for a previously undetected groin hernia since it can affect sexual functions in men and is easily curable.[11]


Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Penile blood flow is measured using a Doppler probe and a 2.5 cm blood pressure cuff. Systolic pressures in the right and left corpora cavernosa are measured and the penile–brachial index is calculated taking a ratio of penile systolic pressure to brachial systolic pressure. These measures should be repeated before and after 3 minutes of exercising the pelvic and leg muscles. In normal men, the PBI should be 0.9 or greater. Ratios between 0.7 and 0.9 suggest vascular impotence; a ratio below 0.6 is diagnostic. Pelvic arteriography can be done if revascularization is considered.
When sexually stimulated there is a release of a chemical, nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the corpus cavernosum. The NO stimulates the production of a compound called cGMP, which causes relaxation of the smooth muscle in the blood vessels supplying the corpus cavernosum. PDE 5 is an enzyme that breaks down cGMP. By inhibiting the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5, these medications allow cGMP to build up in the penis. cGMP causes muscles in the corpora cavernosa of the penis to relax. When the muscle is relaxed, more blood can flow into the penis and fill the spaces in the penis. As the penis fills with blood, the veins in the penis are compressed, and this results a hard erection. When the effect on PDE5 decreases, the cGMP levels go down and the muscle in the penis contracts, causing less blood to flow into the penis and allowing the veins to open up and drain blood out of the penis.
But if the blood flow is weak here, it is highly likely that it is also weak in arteries supplying the heart, raising the risk of a heart attack. In fact, some studies suggest that women with heart disease may also suffer sexual dysfunction: the clitoris, like the penis, is a vascular organ, and also relies on healthy blood flow for successful orgasms.
The causes of erectile dysfunction include aging, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), depression, nerve or spinal cord damage, medication side effects, alcoholism or other substance (drug) abuse, pelvic surgery including radical prostatectomy, pelvic radiation, penile/perineal/pelvic trauma such as pelvic fracture, Peyronie's disease (a disorder that causes curvature of the penis and sometimes painful erections), and low testosterone levels.
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."
Tadalafil (Cialis) is the third oral medicine approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Like sildenafil (Viagra) and vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil inhibits PDE5 (as described earlier). Unlike the other PDE 5 inhibitors, patients should take tadalafil once daily and is approved for the treatment of BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
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Another common problem for men who have trouble in the bedroom is substance use or abuse. In some cases, a man suffering from erectile dysfunction may be diagnosed with depression and be prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. These medications may be able to assist in alleviating the symptoms of depression, but they can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.
As with most other organ system in the human body, changes and loss of function is normal consequence of the ageing process. This is also true of the endocrine system, specifically the levels of testosterone production from the Leydig cells of the testicle. Accompanying the decrease in testosterone is a decrease in erections which also has a component in decrease in the blood supply to the penis making erection not as frequent and not as rigid compared with a young man’s erectile function. Although these changes are in itself not life threatening, they can impact a man’s relationship with his partner, and also ED may be a harbinger of other undiagnosed conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD), hypercholesterolaemia or diabetes mellitus.6
Little is known about the natural history of erectile dysfunction. This includes information on the age of onset, incidence rates stratified by age, progression of the condition, and frequency of spontaneous recovery. There also are very limited data on associated morbidity and functional impairment. To date, the data are predominantly available for whites, with other racial and ethnic populations represented only in smaller numbers that do not permit analysis of these issues as a function of race or ethnicity.

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.)
When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
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