Much of the emphasis on erectile pathophysiology has been placed on penile smooth muscle function and cavernosal hemodynamics. The neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of erection can be characterized but its full extent is poorly understood. Neurologic disease does not always reproducibly affect erections in a uniform manner compared to other types of sexual dysfunction (SD). This offers many obstacles to understanding the role the nervous systems plays in SD and consequently obscures what treatment options readily optimize erections specific to the neurologic insult.
Recognized risk factors for ED include cardiovascular disease (CVD) (hypertension, atherosclerosis, and hyperlipidemia), diabetes, depression, alcohol use, smoking, pelvic/perineal surgery or trauma, neurologic disease, obesity, pelvic radiation, and Peyronie’s disease. One study suggested that the relationship between arterial disease and ED is very strong, with 49% (147 of 300) of patients with coronary artery disease noted on cardiac catheterization reporting significant erectile dysfunction.6 Endothelial dysfunction has been indicated as the pathophysiologic mechanism responsible for both CVD and ED.7 The Boston Area Community Health survey demonstrated a dose-response between smoking and incidence of erectile dysfunction.8 Animal studies have demonstrated both smooth-muscle disruption and decreased production of neural nitric oxide synthase in cigarette-exposed animals.9
Several studies accessed the prevalence of ED. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study reported a prevalence of 52%.2 The study demonstrated that ED is increasingly prevalent with age: approximately 40% of men are affected at age 40 and nearly 70% of men are affected at age 70. The prevalence of complete ED increased from 5% at age 40 to 15% at age 70.2 Age was the variable most strongly associated with ED.
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.
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.)
Medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis) may help improve sexual function in men by increasing blood flow to the penis. Men who are on medicines that contain nitrates such as nitroglycerine should not take oral ED medications. The combination of nitrates and these specific medications can cause low blood pressure (hypotension).
The percentage of men who engage in some form of sexual activity decreases from 73% for men aged 57–64 years to 26% for men aged 75–85 years.3 For some men, this constitutes a problem, but for others it does not. The aetiology for this decline in sexual activity is multifactorial and is in part due to the fact that most of the female partners undergo menopause at 52 years of age with a significant decline in their libido and desire to engage in sexual activity. A study by Lindau and colleagues3 that examined sexuality in older Americans showed that 50% of the men in a probability sample of more than 3000 US adults reported at least one bothersome sexual problem and 33% had at least two such problems.3 This article will review the normal changes that occur with ageing, factors that influence these changes, individual variations and perspectives, and the available treatment options for ED and androgen deficiency.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not recommend alternative therapies to treat sexual dysfunction. Many products are advertised as "herbal viagra" or "natural" sexual enhancement products, but no clinical trials or scientific studies support the effectiveness of these products for the treatment of ED, and synthetic chemical compounds similar to sildenafil have been found as adulterants in many of these products. The FDA has warned consumers that any sexual enhancement product that claims to work as well as prescription products is likely to contain such a contaminant.
Erectile dysfunction is defined as the persistent inability to achieve or maintain penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study surveyed 1,709 men aged 40–70 years between 1987 and 1989 and found there was a total prevalence of erectile dysfunction of 52 percent. It was estimated that, in 1995, over 152 million men worldwide experienced ED. For 2025, the prevalence of ED is predicted to be approximately 322 million worldwide.
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
PD is a chronic neurodegenerative disease characterized by “motor” and “non-motor” symptoms that lead to progressive disability. Erectile and SD are “non-motor” symptoms and can occur in 50–69% of males with PD (39-42). Ejaculatory and orgasmic function are also impaired. PD affects the dopaminergic pathways leading to erection and arousal. Dopaminergic therapy for PD can improve ED, and sometimes therapy may lead to hypersexuality (43,44). A comparison of married men with PD to age matched controls with non-neurologic chronic disease such as arthritis did not show any discrepancy in ED rates (45). This suggests that ED in certain groups with PD may occur from disease related factors common in chronic illness, in general.
Alprostadil is an FDA-approved erectile dysfunction drug that can be injected directly into the penis to trigger an automatic erection. "Penile injection is the most effective type of ED treatment for men who can't take oral treatment," says Nelson Bennett, MD, a urologist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. In fact, it has an 85 percent success rate. Possible side effects include a burning sensation and priapism, an erection that lasts more than four hours and requires medical treatment.