“I’d like to say that men are regularly screened for ED, but when it comes to busy doctors taking care of patients with diabetes, sexual function tends to fall lower on the list of complications,” said Stan Honig, MD, Director of Men’s Health, Yale School of Medicine. “I’d like to think that every doctor asks every man about sexual function, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
These are among the most challenging patients seen in urology practice today: a young, healthy man with neither systemic disease nor a history of trauma, who has complaints of ED (Table 2). These men often have co-morbid diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, which make the issue of ED more complex for both the patient and the urologist (12). The psychological burden of ED in these young men is more pronounced than it might be in older men as this is the phase of life during which many men expect to be highly sexually active (4). These young men are usually technologically savvy and may have scrutinized much of the readily available information on the internet regarding ED. Often they arrive to clinic armed with an understanding of the diagnostic evaluation that may be offered to further investigate the etiology of their concerns. This makes the evaluation and treatment of these men more challenging since additional diagnostic testing is often not indicated after a thorough history and physical examination. In many cases, they may have self-diagnosed and self-treated based on the information that they obtained prior to seeing a physician. Many of these men will see multiple urologists on their quest to find a pathophysiology that they can accept, and many have unrealistic expectations of a rapid cure or a surgical cure.
Erections are neurovascular events, meaning that nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins) are involved in the process of an erection and all must work properly to develop a hard erection that lasts long enough. Erection begins with sexual stimulation. Sexual stimulation can be tactile (for example, by a partner touching the penis or by masturbation) or mental (for example, by having sexual fantasies, viewing porn). Sexual stimulation or sexual arousal causes the nerves going to the penis to release a chemical, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the production of another chemical, cyclic GMP (cGMP), in the muscle of the corpora cavernosa. The cGMP causes the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, and this allows more blood to flow into the penis. The incoming blood fills the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand.
Diabetes leads to vascular complications throughout the body and the penis is no exception. A large survey reported that the majority of men with diabetes and ED had never even been asked about their sexual function. That means they never received treatment for ED. If you think you might have diabetes or even prediabetes, talk to your doctor about ED.
Epidemiological studies consistently show that prevalence of erectile dysfunction (ED) increases with ageing. Nonetheless, complaints of ED even in younger men are becoming more and more frequent. Healthcare professionals working in Sexual Medicine but even those operating in different clinical contexts might be adequately prepared to answer this increasing requirement. ED in younger men is likely to be overlooked and dismissed without performing any medical assessment, even the most basic ones, such as collection of medical history and physical exam. This is due to the widespread assumption that ED in younger individuals is a self-limiting condition, which does not deserve any clinical evaluation or therapy and can be managed only with patient reassurance. However, evidence shows that, in younger subjects, organic, psychological and relational conditions can contribute to the pathogenesis of ED and all these conditions might be evaluated and treated, whenever necessary. Among the organic conditions contributing to the onset of ED, metabolic and cardiovascular (CV) risk factors are surprisingly of particular relevance in this age group. In fact, in younger men with ED, even more than in older ones, recognizing CV risk factors or conditions suggestive of cardio-metabolic derangements can help identifying men who, although at low absolute risk due to young age, carry a high relative risk for development of CV events. In this view, the assessment of a possible organic component of ED even in younger individuals acquires a pivotal importance, because it offers the unique opportunity to unearth the presence of CV risk factors, thus allowing effective and high quality preventive interventions.
Fully restoring sexual health with treatment of a medical condition (such as high blood pressure with diet and/or exercise or by controlling diabetes or other chronic diseases) may not be possible. Identification and treatment of these conditions may prevent the progression of ED and affect the success of various ED therapies. Nutritional states, including malnutrition, obesity, and zinc deficiency, may be associated with erectile dysfunction, and dietary changes may prove a sufficient treatment. Masturbation and excessive masturbation are not felt to cause ED, however, if one notes weak erections with masturbation, this may be a sign of ED. Some men who masturbate frequently may have troubles with achieving the same degree of stimulation from their partner, but this is not ED.
Depression. The profound sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness that characterize depression may also cause ED among younger men. “The biggest effect of depression is on a man’s desire for sexual relations, or libido,” says Drogo Montague, MD, director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction in the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “To some extent, depression can affect a man’s ability to maintain an erection. It can be a chicken-and-egg situation. However, reduced libido is a common indicator of depression.”
The improvement of both man and woman sexual function in couples whose male partner is treated with PDE5i has been further confirmed by randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing the effectiveness of PDE5i vs. placebo in improving couple sexual function (91-95). In a more recent RCT, the use of vardenafil 10 mg oral dispersible tablets has been compared to the use of the drug itself in association with cognitive behavioral sexual therapy (CBST) for 10 weeks in 30 couples with ED male partners, randomly assigned to one study arm (96). Results from this RCT showed that vardenafil is able to improve male sexual function, but this improvement is maintained only in patients receiving both vardenafil and CBST. Furthermore, female sexual function and satisfaction are enhanced only in the arm with vardenafil and CBST combined therapy, thus suggesting that a therapy healing the couple is more effective and has a longer-lasting efficacy than the use of a medication focusing only on ED.
This man’s situational ED, possibly due to performance anxiety or perhaps fear of a repeat injury and pain. Structural, neurogenic, arteriogenic, and venous occlusive erectile dysfunction can be ruled out as he has normal self-stimulated erections. He responds well to low dose oral PDE5 inhibitors. Additional assessment with cold and hot perception testing and biothesiometer were performed due to his complaint of decreased sensation; both test results were normal. He was started on low dose terazosin once daily at bedtime along with Cialis 5 mg as needed. He is responding well to treatment.
Many common medications for treating hypertension, depression, and high blood lipids (high cholesterol) can contribute to erectile dysfunction (see above). Treatment of hypertension is an example. There are many different types (classes) of medications for high blood pressure; these include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics (medications that increase urine volume), angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). Patients may use these medications alone or in combination to control blood pressure. Some of these medications can cause troubles with erections. For example, Inderal (a beta-blocker) and hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) cause erectile dysfunction, while calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors do not seem to affect erectile function. On the other hand, other medications (such as angiotensin receptor blockers [ARB] including losartan [Cozaar] and valsartan [Diovan]) may actually help with erections. Therefore, if possible, you may benefit from changing your medications, but this requires approval by your prescribing health care provider.
Erectile Dysfunction is typically caused by a problem with blood flow in the penis due to the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels of the penis. This occurs most commonly due to aging itself, which causes the smooth muscle cells that line the blood vessels to become stiffer and less able to stretch. This prevents the flow of blood that the penis requires to become erect.
For most men, improving erectile dysfunction means improving blood flow to the penis. Immediate relief often requires medications that increases nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the penis. NO causes the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels of the penis to stretch, which increases the flow of blood. NO also keeps the smooth muscle cells younger and helps prevent and even reverse hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels over time. Proper diet (see more below) and regular exercise are key because both can boost NO.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and highly effective treatment for psychological issues in general, but also for ED. Facilitated by a therapist, this type of treatment helps you to identify and change unhealthy patterns of thought and action which may be contributing to your erectile issues. This kind of treatment is based on the idea that the situation itself (your inability to achieve or maintain an erection) is not the core problem, but rather your reaction to it. If you can learn to better understand yourself and your thought patterns, you can change them in a positive way to resolve your issues.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.