For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
Stress is your body responding to your environment. And it’s a good thing—in limited doses. When you get stressed out your body makes chemicals like adrenaline that make you stronger, faster, fitter, and even able to think more clearly. Most people call this reaction the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s a life-saver in dangerous situations. In a very real sense, adrenaline makes you a part-time superhero. The problems happen when your body deals with constant stress.
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.
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This patient has thoroughly researched erectile dysfunction on the internet and has a powerful knowledge base from which he draws reference. He is also emotionally labile. The most urgent recommendation for this patient is that he seek appropriate psychiatric treatment to help in management of his psychiatric conditions and suicidal ideation. It was also recommended that he seek care with a sexual therapist to work through additional issues related to his “addiction” to masturbation. During his urologic visit we performed both cold and hot perception testing and biothesiometer, which were normal. He was displeased with these findings as they were incongruent with his chief complaints; normal results caused him to become tearful. A penile ultrasound was performed without injection of a pharmacologic agent to assess the appearance of his cavernous tissue and cavernous arteries, which had normal appearance and measurement, respectively, on ultrasound. (This quick bedside procedure has the potential to be both diagnostic and therapeutic for the patient; the importance of this cannot be underestimated).
Patients should continue testosterone therapy only if there is improvement in the symptoms of hypogonadism and should be monitored regularly. You will need periodic blood tests for testosterone levels and blood tests to monitor your blood count and PSA. Testosterone therapy has health risks, and thus doctors should closely monitor its use. Testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.
And be aware that the vast majority of physical or psychological causes of erectile dysfunction are temporary. They may go away as quickly as they occurred. But if anything is bothering you or your partner, you should seek out confidential, professional advice. There is no point in worrying and not doing anything about it. It may just make the situation worse.
Since the decrease in T levels is often a consequence of obesity or weight gain (51), the milestone of treating testosterone deficiency in obese men is encouraging substantial lifestyle changes, including physical activity and weight loss. In fact, it is universally recognized that a low calorie diet or bariatric surgery can induce a significant increase in T plasma levels, reaching 10 nmol/L with the most invasive surgical procedures (62). Weight loss-induced T rise is more evident in young individuals (62), and, therefore, it must be strongly recommended in this age band.
Multiple authors have demonstrated that anxiety, depression, and stress clearly produce major neurochemical and neuroendocrine changes in the brain (10,11). Changes in neurobiology would be expected to contribute to impaired erectile function. Stress and anxiety lead to increased epinephrine production, and heightened sympathetic tone leads to exaggerated cavernosal smooth muscle contraction, inability of smooth muscle to relax, and subsequent erectile dysfunction (6,7). Failure to achieve a fully rigid erection may aggravate performance anxiety leading to a vicious cycle.
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.
Anxiety is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction in young men. This can include nervousness about getting your partner pregnant, losing your erection while putting a condom on, or your sexual performance. This often creates a negative spiral, because failure to achieve an erection causes yet more anxiety and stress. Depression, anxiety and stress can also cause ED by reducing libido.
Erectile dysfunction is your body’s “check engine light” because ED can be an early sign of serious health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or low testosterone. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body. So ED symptoms often occur long before more serious problems like a heart attack or stroke. When an otherwise healthy man in his 20’s experiences ED, it’s cause for concern.
The association between psychiatric conditions and sexual dysfunctions, including ED, is well known. Data from population-based studies demonstrate a cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and ED (65-68) and, among men seeking medical care for ED, depression is significantly associated with a greater severity of the impairment in erectile function (69,70). A meta-analysis of the available prospective studies has shown the role of depression as a significant risk factor for development of ED (71). However, the relationship seems to be bidirectional, as also ED has been associated with the occurrence of depression (72). In addition, treatment with PDE5i is related with an improvement in depressive symptoms (72). Most of this evidence comes from studies not specifically designed for the assessment of this relationship in younger men. However, few studies available in younger populations seem to confirm these results. In an internet-based survey, involving more than 800 North American medical students with a mean age of 25.7 years, ED was reported by 13% of them and it showed a significant association with depressive symptoms, whose frequency got higher as a function of ED severity (73). In a population of more than 2,500 very young Swiss men, aged 18–25 years, participating to a survey on sexual function while attending the medical screening for the evaluation of military capability, ED had a prevalence of 30%. Among the possible correlated conditions, mental health showed an independent association, besides the use of medications without medical prescription, a shorter sexual lifespan and impaired physical health (74). The results from this Swiss study were then prospectively extended on a sample of 3,700 men evaluated at baseline and 15.5 months later (75). Among a number of different possible predictors, including life-style, drug abuse, perceived physical fitness and BMI, only perceived impairment in mental health and depression, either newly occurred or continuously present, were associated with both persistence and development of ED (75). In a retrospective population-based study from Finland, involving almost 3,500 men aged 18–48 years, the role of depression as a significant predictor for ED was confirmed, but this study also showed that anxiety plays a significant role and that ED is significantly less frequent in men with a longer lasting sexual life, thus underlining the positive role of sexual experience and self-confidence (76). Anxiety is often involved in the pathogenesis of ED at the beginning of sexual life. In fact, anxiety can lead to an excessive focus on quality of erection, thus providing a cognitive distraction that negatively affects the arousal and consequently the erection itself (77-79). On the other hand, anxiety can result from one or more sexual failures, with loss of sexual confidence, increasing fears and avoidance for sexual experiences that, in the end, lead to an increased probability of new failures, thus creating a vicious circle (77). Cognitive distraction could be also provided by excessive worry for physical, and in particular genital, self-image. In fact, it has been proposed that when most mental energy is focused on monitoring body, psychological resources are distracted from sex, resulting in an impaired functioning (80,81). In line with this cognitive explanation, a recent study conducted on 367 military personnel younger than 40 years showed that a deteriorated genital self-image is associated with sexual anxiety which, in turn, is associated with a higher probability of sexual dysfunction (82).
Sexuality and erection are controlled by multiple areas of the human brain including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Stimulatory or inhibitory messages are relayed to the spinal erection centers to facilitate or inhibit erection (5). Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the inhibition of erection in psychogenic dysfunction: direct inhibition of the spinal erection center by the brain as an exaggeration of the normal suprasacral inhibition and excessive sympathetic outflow or elevated peripheral catecholamine levels, which may increase penile smooth muscle tone and prevent the relaxation necessary for erection (8). Animal studies demonstrate that the stimulation of sympathetic nerves or systemic infusion of epinephrine causes detumescence of the erect penis (6,7). Clinically, higher levels of serum norepinephrine have been reported in patients with psychogenic ED than in normal controls or patients with vasculogenic ED (9).
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.
Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. However, placement of a prosthesis causes scarring of the tissue within the corpora cavernosa, and if the prosthesis requires removal, other forms of therapy, except for the vacuum device, are often not effective. Thus, most physicians reserve placement of a prosthesis for men who have tried and failed or have contraindications to other therapies.
This is a 17-year-old male with a past medical history of insomnia, anxiety and depression who presents with complaints of gradual onset (2 years ago) of decreased ability to obtain and maintain erections adequate for intercourse. He reports normal nocturnal erections “most days of the week”. He does not masturbate because he feels that masturbation may have desensitized his brain and caused ED; however, he can masturbate and have an erection with normal orgasm/ejaculation. He has had a successful erection and intercourse with a partner, last time 2 weeks ago. He feels that his ED might have been associated with SSRI treatment but noted no improvement after stopping his SSRI. Cialis 5 mg is effective. He reports normal libido “but not where it was”. His testosterone (T) and free T are normal. He is in the care of a sexual therapist and has read extensively on the internet. He takes trazodone nightly for sleep.
Penile prosthesis is a viable option for men who cannot use sildenafil and who find the injections or vacuum erection therapy distasteful. A non-adjustable semi-rigid prosthesis is easy to insert and has no postoperative mechanical problems. The inflatable prosthesis has a pump that is put in the testicular sac for on-demand inflation and deflation. Future versions will have a remote control device similar to a garage-door opener.
While there are many ways to treat ED today, men with diabetes may require maximum doses of medications such as Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™, yet still find drugs ineffective.7 In a study of nearly 20,000 men with ED, men with diabetes were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to move on to other treatments, such as pumps and penile implants than men without diabetes.9
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.