Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to achieve or sustain a hard enough erection for satisfactory completion of sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction is different from other health conditions that interfere with male sexual function, such as lack of sexual desire (decreased libido) and problems with ejaculation release of the fluid from the penis (ejaculatory dysfunction) and orgasm/climax (orgasmic dysfunction), and penile curvature (Peyronie's disease), although these problems may also be present. ED affects about 50% of men age 40 and over. This article focuses on the evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction.
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.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. In general, exercise, particularly of the aerobic type, is effective for preventing ED during midlife. Exercise as a treatment is under investigation.[22]:6, 18–19 For tobacco smokers, cessation often results in a significant improvement.[23] Oral pharmacotherapy and vacuum erection devices are first-line treatments,[22]:20, 24 followed by injections of drugs into the penis, as well as penile implants.[22]:25–26 Vascular reconstructive surgeries are beneficial in certain groups.[24]
There are myriad factors, both mental and physical, that may contribute to your erectile dysfunction symptoms. Some of the most common impotence causes include diabetes, hypertension, prostate problems, low testosterone and obesity, which can not only put a damper on your sexual enjoyment, but play a key role in your total male vitality, too. (Even medications that are often prescribed to control some of the aforementioned issues can be behind some of the frustrating symptoms of ED.) There are factors like depression, stress and anxiety that can leave you longing for your glory days, and the coping mechanisms like alcohol and tobacco that can make a roll in the sheets less satisfying for you and your partner. We’ll listen to you with a compassionate ear and thoughtfully consider what may be contributing to your ED symptoms, then draw up your perfect, personalized treatment.
An analysis of 14 studies involving more than 90,000 patients with ED confirmed the relation between ED and an increased risk of cardiovascular events and mortality. [56] Compared with patients without ED, those with ED had a 44% increased risk of cardiovascular events, a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality, a 62% increased risk of MI, and a 39% increased risk of cerebrovascular events. Treatment of ED, either through lifestyle interventions or by pharmacologic means, may improve prognosis and reduce risk.

The art of acupuncture has become the new treatment for everything from back pain, depression, and even ED. Impotence could be more of a state of mind, and acupuncture may help. Through this alternative therapy, fine needles are placed in various parts of the body to relieve pain or stress. Although there are many mixed studies for acupuncture and ED, many tend to confirm positive results. A 1999 study found acupuncture improved the quality of erection and even restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.
Alprostadil should not be used in men at higher risk for priapism (erection lasting longer than six hours) including men with sickle cell anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), polycythemia (increased red blood cell count), multiple myeloma (a cancer of the white blood cells), and is contraindicated in men prone to venous thrombosis (blood clots in the veins) or hyperviscosity syndrome who are at increased risk for priapism.

Look, ED can have many causes. Most of the time, it’s physiological. But there are also lots of psychological reasons why someone may experience ED. Treating ED isn’t all about medication. Dealing with some of these psychological issues can help you battle ED, too. I’m talking about depression, anxiety, loss of desire, sense of inadequacy, guilt, fatigue, anger, relationship dysfunction. Working through these types of psychological challenges can help you achieve the happy, healthy manhood you deserve.


The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
However, a review of a United Kingdom medical record database found no evidence that the use of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors independently increase the risk for ED. In 71,849 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the risk of ED was not increased with the use of finasteride or dutasteride only (odds ratio [OR] 0.94), or a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor plus an alpha blocker (OR 0.92) compared with an alpha blocker only. In addition, the risk of ED was not increase in 12 346 men prescribed finasteride 1 mg for alopecia, compared with unexposed men with alopecia (OR 0.95). The risk of ED did increase with longer duration of BPH, regardless of drug exposure. [48]
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.
You should talk to your doctor about possible treatments. You may want to talk to other patients who have had the treatment planned for you. You also may want to seek a second doctor's opinion about surgery before making your decision. You may find it difficult to talk to your doctor about impotence. You will want to find a doctor who treats this condition and will help you feel comfortable talking about the problem and choosing the best treatment. You can also get more information by contacting your local National Kidney Foundation affiliate.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.

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.
Psychological factors — Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of impotence. Doctors now know that physical factors cause impotence in most men with the problem. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse.
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A common and important cause of ED is vasculogenic. Many men with ED have comorbid conditions such as hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, tobacco abuse, diabetes mellitus, or coronary artery disease (CAD). [6] The Princeton III Consensus recommends screening men who present with ED for cardiovascular risk factors; ED may be the earliest presentation of atherosclerosis and vascular disease. [7]
Due to the risk of hypotension, caution should be used in patients using alpha blockers for prostate hyperplasia and patients using other antihypertensive medications and alpha blockers, which should not be co-administered with PDE5 inhibitors. In patients who take 50 mg of sildenafil or more and use alpha blockers, sildenafil dosing should be avoided for at least 4 hours after the dose of the alpha blocker. In patients who take 25 mg of sildenafil, use of any alpha blockers is considered safe.
The recommended starting dose of tadalafil for use as needed for most patients is 10 mg taken orally approximately one hour before sexual activity. A doctor may adjust the dose higher to 20 mg or lower to 5 mg depending on efficacy and side effects. Doctors recommended that patients take tadalafil no more frequently than once per day. Some patients can take tadalafil less frequently since the improvement in erectile function may last 36 hours. Patients may take tadalafil with or without food. Tadalafil is currently the only PDE5 inhibitor that is FDA-approved for daily use for erectile dysfunction and is available in 2.5 mg or 5 mg dosages for daily use.

Testosterone replacement therapy may improve energy, mood, and bone density, increase muscle mass and weight, and heighten sexual interest in older men who may have deficient levels of testosterone. Testosterone supplementation is not recommended for men who have normal testosterone levels for their age group due to the risk of prostate enlargement and other side effects. Testosterone replacement therapy is available as a cream or gel, topical solution, skin patch, injectable form and pellet form placed under the skin.
Causes of impotence are many and include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Peyronie's disease, substance abuse, sleep disorders, BPH treatments, relationship problems, blood vessel diseases (such as peripheral vascular disease and others), systemic disease, hormonal imbalance, and medications (such as blood pressure and heart medications).
Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
The venous constriction device is a device designed to compress the veins that drain blood flow out of the penis to keep blood in the penis. These devices may help individuals who have a "venous leak." In these individuals, although blood flow is coming into the penis, it is draining out at the same time and this persistent drainage prevents a fully rigid erection. These devices may be used with other forms of medical therapy, such as medications, injection therapy, or the vacuum device.
For obvious reasons, ED can be a sensitive subject, one that until relatively recently men were more likely to try to hide than to deal with. Fortunately, a deeper understanding of the variety of causes of erectile dysfunction has led to medications, therapies, and other treatments that can be more individualized and more likely to be effective—and more open discussion about addressing the concern.
Alprostadil should not be used in men with urethral stricture (scarring and narrowing of the tube that urine and the ejaculate pass through), balanitis (inflammation/infection of the glans [tip] of the penis, severe hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, rather on the underside of the penis), penile curvature (abnormal bend to the penis), and urethritis (inflammation/infection of the urethra).
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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
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High cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in an optimal range will help protect your heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol management may include lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) as well as medications to get your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in an optimal range.
Testosterone replacement therapy may improve energy, mood, and bone density, increase muscle mass and weight, and heighten sexual interest in older men who may have deficient levels of testosterone. Testosterone supplementation is not recommended for men who have normal testosterone levels for their age group due to the risk of prostate enlargement and other side effects. Testosterone replacement therapy is available as a cream or gel, topical solution, skin patch, injectable form and pellet form placed under the skin.
In patients who either fail to respond to first or second-line therapy, or are not interested in the conservative therapies, penile prosthesis implantation is available. Malleable and rigid implants were available for many years, but in 1973 the world of penile prosthetics took a giant leap forward with the advent of the inflatable penile implant. Most implants done nowadays are of the inflatable variety. Adverse events including malfunction and infection are rare, and patient satisfaction is very high.45
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.
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.

Qaseem, A., Snow, V., Denberg, T. D., Casey, D. E., Forciea, M. A., Owens, D. K., & Shekelle, P. (2009). Hormonal testing and pharmacologic treatment of erectile dysfunction: A clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians. Annals of internal medicine, 151(9), 639-649. Retrieved from http://annals.org/aim/article/745155/hormonal-testing-pharmacologic-treatment-erectile-dysfunction-clinical-practice-guideline-from
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The first line and by far the most common treatment today is with the prescription drug sildenafil citrate, sold under the brand name Viagra. An estimated 20 million prescriptions for the pill have been filled since it was approved by the FDA in March 1998. It is also the most effective treatment with a success rate of more than 60%. The drug boosts levels of a substance called cyclic GMP, which is responsible for widening the blood vessels of the penis. In clinical studies, Viagra produced headaches in 16% of men who took it, and other side effects included flushing, indigestion, and stuffy nose.

These oral medications reversibly inhibit penile-specific PDE5 and enhance the nitric oxide–cGMP pathways of cavernous smooth muscle relaxation; that is, all prevent the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5. It is important to emphasize to patients that these drugs augment the body’s natural erectile mechanisms, therefore the neural and psychoemotional stimuli typically needed for arousal still need to be activated for the drugs to be efficacious.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common conditions affecting middle-aged and older men. Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician will be called upon to manage this condition or to make referrals to urologists, endocrinologists and cardiologists who will assist in the treatment of ED. This article will briefly discuss the diagnosis and management of ED. In addition, emerging concepts in ED management will be discussed, such as the use of testosterone to treat ED, the role of the endothelium in men with ED and treating the partner of the man with ED. Finally, future potential therapies for ED will be discussed.
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Talk with your doctor about going to a counselor if psychological or emotional issues are affecting your ED. A counselor can teach you how to lower your anxiety or stress related to sex. Your counselor may suggest that you bring your partner to counseling sessions to learn how to support you. As you work on relieving your anxiety or stress, a doctor can focus on treating the physical causes of ED.


This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
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