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.
The reasons young men develop erectile dysfunction differ from those of their older peers. The typical aging male with erectile dysfunction develops the condition because some underlying disease (such as heart disease or diabetes) is preventing blood from flowing into his penis. For a younger man, the problem is more likely to be some form of trauma, such as an accident that damaged nerves needed to produce an erection. Regardless of the cause, a young man with erectile dysfunction should talk about the problem with a physician.
As a starting point, consider the National Health and Social Life Survey, which was the first nationally representative sex survey conducted in the United States . The data were collected in 1992 from thousands of Americans aged 18-59. As part of this survey, male participants were asked whether they’d had trouble maintaining or achieving an erection any time in the last year, to which they provided a simple yes/no answer.
Psychological Causes of ED – Between 10% and 20% of ED cases have a psychological cause. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.
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.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.
Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.
There is no evidence that mild or even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for erectile function, says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urology professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. But chronic heavy drinking can cause liver damage, nerve damage, and other conditions -- such as interfering with the normal balance of male sex hormone levels -- that can lead to ED.
The initial step in evaluating ED is a thorough sexual history and physical exam. The history can help in distinguishing between the primary and psychogenic causes. It is important to explore the onset, progression, and duration of the problem. If a man gives a history of “no sexual problems until one night,” the problem is most likely related to performance anxiety, disaffection, or an emotional problem. Aside from these causes, only radical prostatectomy or other overt genital tract trauma causes a sudden loss of male sexual function.
There are a number of reasons a man may not achieve the desired result from an oral erectile dysfunction drug. In some cases, a man may experience drug side effects severe enough to outweigh any potential benefit of taking the drug. Possible side effects of these drugs include headache, facial flushing, nasal congestion, and transient abnormal vision. (In October 2007, the FDA added a warning about sudden hearing loss to the package labels of oral erectile dysfunction drugs. While it’s not absolutely clear that the drugs can cause sudden hearing loss, a number of cases have been reported in men within hours or days of taking one of the drugs.)
Dr. Jonas Bovijn is the co-first author of the study and is from the Big Data Institute at the University of Oxford. He said: “We know that there is observational evidence linking erectile dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, but until now there has not been definitive evidence to show that predisposition to type 2 diabetes causes erectile dysfunction.”
The physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.
This form of therapy has a response rate of well over 70%. The sympathetic nervous system normally maintains the penis in a flaccid or non-erect state. All of the vasoactive drugs, when injected into the corpora cavernosae, inhibit or override sympathetic inhibition to encourage relaxation of the smooth muscle trabeculae. The rush of blood engorges the penile corpora cavernosae sinusoidal spaces and creates an erection.
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.
A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.
Depression and anxiety: Psychological factors may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. These factors include stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, widower syndrome, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear of sexual failure (performance anxiety). It is also worth noting that many medications used for treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders may cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems.
Though it's most common among older men, it's possible for young men to get erectile dysfunction. When young men develop ED, it's usually a result of psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, depression or relationship problems. However, physical problems such as diabetes, nerve problems, injury or other medical conditions may also lead to erectile dysfunction in younger men. If you're having frequent or ongoing trouble getting or keeping an erection long enough to have sex, talk to your doctor.
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.
In patients with low testosterone, testosterone treatment can improve libido and erectile dysfunction, but many men still may need additional oral medications such as sildenafil, vardenafil, or tadalafil. Some studies suggest that men with ED and low testosterone may respond better to PDE5 inhibitors when given testosterone therapy; however, this is controversial.
In many ways, performance anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you become nervous about being able to satisfy your partner and the nerves lead to sexual dysfunction. In many cases, performance anxiety is triggered by negative self-talk – worries about being able to achieve an erection, pleasing a partner, or ejaculating too early. If you have had erectile issues in the past, those experiences will add to the weight of performance anxiety.
Unconventional CV risk factors, such as impaired erections during masturbation and reduced flaccid acceleration, are interesting parameters to implement in Sexual Medicine context, because they can help fill the gap of information on CV risk, left by the conventional risk factors (the so-called residual risk) (38). However, it should be recognized that not all the healthcare professionals who deal with the complaint of ED (i.e., general practitioners, diabetologists, cardiologists, sport physicians, nurses, etc.) have the facilities or competence for the specific assessment of these parameters. In contexts different than Sexual Medicine and Andrology, the assessment of conventional risk factors is certainly more convenient. Metabolic syndrome (MetS) represents a cluster of metabolic derangements easily and commonly evaluated in several different medical contexts. In a population of more than 600 subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for ED, the presence of MetS was associated with an increased incidence of MACE during 4.3 years of follow-up in younger (first tertile of age: 18–52 years) (Figure 3, Panel A and B) but not in middle aged and older men (second and third tertiles of age: 53–60 and 61–88 years, respectively) (Figure 3, Panel B). Similar to MetS, the algorithms for estimating the risk of developing MACE are easily computed and they take into account factors largely available in a clinical setting. In Europe, the most commonly used algorithm is the SCORE, which takes into account age, smoking habits, systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol (26). These parameters are introduced in a calculation tool that returns the 10-year risk of developing the first MACE. The same estimated risk rate can obviously be derived from different combinations and extent of the single risk factors and, as aforementioned, age has a heavy weight in the amount of risk, even when the other parameters are normal. For overcoming this overestimation, the concept of vascular age, based on the predicted CV risk, has been introduced. Vascular age of a subjects with a specific CV risk profile corresponds to the chronological age of a subjects who has the same estimated risk but only due to chronological age, because of the absence of the other modifiable risk factors (i.e., a non-smoker, normotensive and normocholesterolemic subject) (39,40). Vascular age carries the advantage of easily and directly communicating the concept of high relative risk to patients, in particular to younger ones, who are by definition at low absolute risk (“Your CV risk is the same of a man that is 15 years older than you”). Based on this interesting and useful concept of vascular age, we recently studied the clinical consequences of having a high discrepancy between the estimated vascular and the actual chronological age in our population of men consulting for ED. In our sample, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with higher glucose and triglyceride levels as well as with impaired penile colour Doppler ultrasound parameters, suggesting a CV impairment (41). When evaluating the subset of men for whom information on incident MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with the incidence of MACE in younger, but not in older men (42).
Nevertheless, this study highlights the ubiquitousness of sexual problems in the heavy-drinking population. It also stresses the need for addiction medicine specialists to note the possibility of sexual problems in their clients. In addition, it highlights the need for sexual medicine specialists to consider the effects of heavy alcohol use on sexual functioning. However, there is ample evidence that alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction, for the most part, is reversible with cessation of alcohol use. Thus, this information can be used in motivational counselling of heavy drinkers to provide impetus for change. Clinicians are well advised to routinely assess sexual functioning in patients with alcohol dependence.
Dr. Anna Murray, of the University of Exeter Medical School, is co-lead author on the study. She said: “Erectile dysfunction affects at least one in five men over 60, yet up until now little has been known about its cause. Our paper echoes recent findings that the cause can be genetic, and it goes further. We found that a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes is linked to erectile dysfunction. That may mean that if people can reduce their risk of diabetes through healthier lifestyles, they may also avoid developing erectile dysfunction.”
Most men may not openly talk about their erection problems, but erectile dysfunction — when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection well enough or long enough to have satisfying sex — is very common. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 percent of 40-year-olds and 15 to 25 percent of 65-years old have ED. But while ED is more likely to occur as a man gets older, it doesn’t come automatically with age.
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.
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.
A vacuum erection device is a plastic tube that slips over the penis, making a seal with the skin of the body. A pump at the other end of the tube makes a low-pressure vacuum around the erectile tissue, which results in an erection. An elastic ring is then slipped onto the base of the penis. This holds the blood in the penis (and keeps it hard) for up to 30 minutes. With proper training, 75 out of 100 men can get a working erection using a vacuum erection device.
The bad news: Men with diabetes are three times more likely to report having problems with sex than non-diabetic men. The most common sexual problem is Erectile Dysfunction, or ED, sometimes called impotence. Even worse, because ED is such a private issue, many men feel embarrassed to discuss the problem with their doctor, or even their partner, so the problem is never addressed.