Dr. Niket Sonpal is the Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Associate Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. He's a practicing Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with a focus on Men's and Women's Health, and a regular contributor to Women's health, Shape and Prevention Magazine.
A 25-year-old male presents with a past medical history of mild traumatic brain injury, remote bilateral orchitis, depression, anxiety, and PTSD from childhood bullying. He presents with his mother. His chief complaint is ED that began at 19 years old. He reports that it is "hard to obtain an erection, takes a lot of work to get almost nothing out of it" and “extreme loss of sensation in specific areas” on his penis. He feels that this might be related to “over masturbation without lubricant” 1–3 times per day and reports that he is “addicted to masturbation”, using it as a coping mechanism to manage his PTSD. He reports strong, sustainable erections with tadalafil 5 mg and recovery of sensation when he uses marijuana. He has read extensively on the internet and self-treats with topical vitamin creams, self-administered laser treatment to the penis, pulsed electromagnetic therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment for ED for the past 6 months. He reports no change with any of these treatments. He reports reduced libido and has recently started treatment with HCG and testosterone gel for testosterone of 198 without any change in his symptoms with T of 450. His free T is normal. He lives at home, is unemployed, and is sedentary. He takes Wellbutrin. His physical examination is normal. His CBC, CMP, pituitary, and thyroid functions are normal. Prior to the visit, his mother called the clinic to inform personnel that her son was very sensitive, potentially suicidal, and emotionally disturbed by this problem. He has seen two other urologists already for his erectile dysfunction and been displeased with the outcome of his visits.
We are writing this commentary to provide urologists with additional information regarding ED in young men and to open the discussion for new approaches to treatment of ED in young men. Hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle is an organic etiology of erectile dysfunction and should be considered in the differential diagnosis for these young men. Developing a system to explain the pathophysiologic mechanism of the dysfunction may make it easier to effectively treat these complex patients.
The penis is composed of three cylinders: two on the top, the corpora cavernosa and one on the bottom, the corpus spongiosum. All of these are involved in the process of an erection. The corpora cavernosa are composed of potential spaces that can distend with blood, causing rigidity of the penile shaft. The corpus spongiosum is important for rigidity of the glans of the penis. When aroused, stimulated chemicals are released from the nervous system (nitric oxide is one) that stimulate the arteries to the penis to relax and increase blood flow into the penis. These potential spaces, like a sponge, can expand when more blood flow comes in the penis. Each corpora cavernosa is surrounded by an outer coating the tunica albuginea. When the penis fills with blood, these potential spaces, the sinusoids, compress the veins in the corpora against the side of the tunica albuginea, thus preventing blood from leaving the penis. It is this compression of the veins that allows for the erection to become fully rigid.
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
It's not easy to get in the mood when you're overwhelmed by responsibilities at work and home. Stress can take its toll on many different parts of your body, including your penis. Deal with stress by making lifestyle changes that promote well-being and relaxation, such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and seeking professional help when appropriate.
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:
Now, there are lots of ways that you can reduce stress and anxiety in your life. One of those things you can do is exercising daily. Now, it doesn’t mean getting into a gym all the time, but it can just be doing sit-ups at home, long walks at the grocery store, bicycling, and if you can afford the gym, getting there maybe two to three days a week. But don’t forget, a healthy body equals a healthy mind. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises– now, here’s where you can take a few moments to be centered and communicate with your inner self, peace. Healthy eating– now, taking control of the intake of what goes into your body makes you to start feeling better and looking better. That wellness is the opposite of anxiety. And treating issues and tackling things that are weighing you down, taking that very first step is liberating.
Erectile dysfunction in older men. Because erections primarily involve the blood vessels, it is not surprising that the most common causes in older men are conditions that block blood flow to the penis, such as atherosclerosis or diabetes. Another vascular cause may be a faulty vein, which lets blood drain too quickly from the penis. Other physical disorders, as well as hormonal imbalances and certain operations, may also result in erectile dysfunction.
The natural history of ED in people with diabetes is normally gradual and does not occur overnight. Both vascular and neurological mechanisms are most commonly involved in people with diabetes. Atherosclerosis in the penile and pudendal arteries limits the blood flow into the corpus cavernosum. Because of the loss of compliance in the cavernous trabeculae, the venous flow is also lost. This loss of flow results in the inability of the corpora cavernosae to expand and compress the outflow vessels.
If the patient reports that PDE 5 inhibitors work poorly or inconsistently, we offer CIS to objectively assess erectile function and to provide diagnostic information. For the CIS, inject bimix (such as papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/mL—0.2–0.3 cc) and have the patient compress the injection site for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, instruct the patient to self-stimulate, then assess his response to injection. One could also combine penile color duplex ultrasound (PCDU) with the CIS. However, PCDU is expensive, may not be covered by the patient’s insurance, and may require increased dosages of pharmacologic agents, such as trimix (papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/alprostadil 10 mg–0.5 cc) to obtain complete smooth muscle relaxation. This often requires reversal of erection using phenylephrine after the study. In rare patients who failed to achieve and maintain erection with 0.5 mL of trimix, we may proceed with pharmacologic cavernosography or pharmacologic arteriography depending on the results of PCDU.
Additionally, speaking to more than just the sexual issues related to erectile dysfunction, the research addresses implications related to the overall understanding of penile health. According to Arthur Burnett, M.D., a professor of urology and head of the research team, "eNOS plays roles in both immediate erectile response and the overall health and function of the penile tissue."
The brain is an often-overlooked erogenous zone. Sexual excitement starts in your head and works its way down. Depression can dampen your desire and can lead to erectile dysfunction. Ironically, many of the drugs used to treat depression can also suppress your sex drive and make it harder to get an erection, and they can cause a delay in your orgasm.
Hormonal disorders, such as low testosterone, may contribute to ED. Another possible hormonal cause of ED is increased production of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. Additionally, an abnormally high or low thyroid hormone level can result in ED. Young men who use steroids to help build muscle mass are also at a higher risk for ED.
All of these medicines work by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow in the penis during sexual stimulation. You should not take any of these medicines to treat ED if you are taking nitrates to treat a heart condition. Nitrates widen and relax your blood vessels. The combination can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, which may cause you to become faint or dizzy, or fall, leading to possible injuries.
There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.