Estimates of the prevalence of impotence depend on the definition employed for this condition. For the purposes of this consensus development conference statement, impotence is defined as male erectile dysfunction, that is, the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. Erectile performance has been characterized by the degree of dysfunction, and estimates of prevalence (the number of men with the condition) vary depending on the definition of erectile dysfunction used.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
Davis Liu, MD is a board certified family physician, patient advocate, physician leader, blogger, and the author of two books, including The Thrifty Patient – Vital Insider Tips for Saving Money and Staying Healthy. He’s passionate about making healthcare more convenient, personalized, and affordable. Prior to joining, Dr. Liu was a practicing primary-care doctor for fifteen years at Kaiser Permanente in Roseville, California. He also served on the Permanente Medical Group (TPMG) Board of Directors as Vice Chair of the Finance and Audit committee and the Governance committee. Dr. Liu graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his medical degree from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.
Poor sleep patterns can be a contributing factor for erectile dysfunction, Mucher says. One review published in the journal Brain Research emphasized the intricate relationship between the level of sex hormones like testosterone, sexual function, and sleep, noting that testosterone levels increase with improved sleep, and lower levels are associated with sexual dysfunction. Hormone secretion is controlled by the body’s internal clock, and sleep patterns likely help the body determine when to release certain hormones.
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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.
While studies are limited, it has been shown that male sexual dysfunction can also negatively impact the sexual function of female partners. A study comparing the sexual function of women with partners with erectile dysfunction to those without showed that sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, pain and total score were significantly lower in those who had partners with erectile dysfunction. Later in that study, a large proportion of the men with erectile dysfunction underwent treatment. Following treatment, sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain were all significantly increased. It was concluded that female sexual function is impacted by male erection status, which may improve following treatment of male sexual dysfunction.
A rigid or nearly rigid erectile response to intracavernous injection of pharmacologic test doses of a vasodilating agent (see below) indicates adequate arterial and veno-occlusive function. This suggests that the patient may be a suitable candidate for a trial of penile injection therapy. Genital stimulation may be of use in increasing the erectile response in this setting. This diagnostic technique also may be used to differentiate a vascular from a primarily neuropathic or psychogenic etiology. Patients who have an inadequate response to intracavernous pharmacologic injection may be candidates for further vascular testing. It should be recognized, however, that failure to respond adequately may not indicate vascular insufficiency but can be caused by patient anxiety or discomfort. The number of patients who may benefit from more extensive vascular testing is small, but includes young men with a history of significant perineal or pelvic trauma, who may have anatomic arterial blockage (either alone or with neurologic deficit) to account for 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.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years,  exerting substantial effects on quality of life.  This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.
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.
All studies demonstrate a strong association with age, even when data are adjusted for the confounding effects of other risk factors. The independent association with aging suggests that vascular changes in the arteries and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa, similar to those found elsewhere in the body, are contributing factors. Other risk factors associated with aging include depression, sleep apnea, and low HDL levels.
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.