Achieving an erection is a complicated process, requiring transmission of sensations from the genital area to the nervous system and the return of nervous impulses to the muscles and blood vessels of the penis. Anything that interferes with this interchange, such as disease or injury of the blood vessels, muscles, or nerves, can make achieving and maintaining an erection difficult. Psychological factors, such as anxiety and depression, can also interfere with erectile function. Anxiety and depression may also develop as a consequence of impotence.

Studies to further define vasculogenic disorders include pharmacologic duplex grey scale/color ultrasonography, pharmacologic dynamic infusion cavernosometry/ cavernosography, and pharmacologic pelvic/penile angiography. Cavernosometry, duplex ultrasonography, and angiography performed either alone or in conjunction with intracavernous pharmacologic injection of vasodilator agents rely on complete arterial and cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation to evaluate arterial and veno-occlusive function. The clinical effectiveness of these invasive studies is severely limited by several factors, including the lack of normative data, operator dependence, variable interpretation of results, and poor predictability of therapeutic outcomes of arterial and venous surgery. At the present time these studies might best be done in referral centers with specific expertise and interest in investigation of the vascular aspects of erectile dysfunction. Further clinical research is necessary to standardize methodology and interpretation, to obtain control data on normals (as stratified according to age), and to define what constitutes normality in order to assess the value of these tests in their diagnostic accuracy and in their ability to predict treatment outcome in men with erectile dysfunction.
It is important for clinicians prescribing these drugs to make the patient aware of the action of the drugs especially the fact that they do not result in an immediate erection, and that they do not cause an erection without sexual stimulation. There is frequently a great expectation when men begin using these drugs and it is wise to temper their enthusiasm and explain they do not work immediately, and may not work every time, but also let the patient know that if these drugs do not work, there are other options.
In some cases, nocturnal penile tumescence testing is performed to find out whether the man has erections while asleep. Healthy men usually have about four or five erections throughout the night. The man applies a device to the penis called a Rigiscan before going to bed at night, and the device can determine whether he has had erections. (If a man is able to have normal erections at night, this suggests a psychological cause for his impotence.)
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
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Another approach is vacuum therapy. The man inserts his penis into a clear plastic cylinder and uses a pump to force air out of the cylinder. This forms a partial vacuum around the penis, which helps to draw blood into the corpora cavernosa. The man then places a special ring over the base of the penis to trap the blood inside it. The only side effect with this type of treatment is occasional bruising if the vacuum is left on too long.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
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