If you are experiencing ED, you should talk with your doctor about your potential risk for cardiovascular disease. And if you’re already taking certain medications such as nitrites for your heart or alpha-blockers to manage blood pressure, your doctor will discuss whether ED medications are right for you or whether other options may be more appropriate.
“Sex often feels different for your partner when you experience ED,” warns Dr. Schwarts. “Men may not notice gradual changes to the girth or angle of his erection. But his partner does.” If you or your partner notice a persistent change in your erections that affects your sexual intimacy, you may have erectile dysfunction—even if you’re still able to get an erection.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.
When these drugs don't work, there are other options. Medications that dilate blood vessels, such as alprostadil, can be injected or deposited in the penis; they work in more than 80 percent of men with diabetes. Beyond that, penile implants can be an effective surgical solution. Implants are either malleable rods, which can be manually adjusted to the desired position, or inflatable cylinders that fill with fluid when a pump under the skin of the scrotum is pressed.
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.
Many younger men are concerned that this will create a dependency on the medication. However, you cannot become dependent because there is no tachyphylaxis to these medications. This means, that unlike some other drugs (opiates, benzodiazepines) your body does not get used to these medications over time, so you won’t need to up the dosage over time to get the same effect. In fact, we have found the opposite to be true. Over time, many of our younger patients need less medication and need it less frequently.
Some studies have linked bicycling to ED, though more research is needed to confirm the connection. Bicycle seats put pressure on nerves and blood vessels in the pelvic region. If you’re a frequent or long-distance cyclist, consider buying a seat specially designed to reduce pressure on your perineum. Learn more about the effects of cycling on erectile function.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.
Also, even if rates of erectile difficulties are rising in young guys, we definitely can’t say why. While many like to point to increased access to online porn as the likely culprit, we need to be mindful of the fact that a ton of other things could potentially be playing a role. For example, young people today are much more likely to be using antidepressants than they were in the past, which we know can cause a number of sexual side effects. There may also have been changes in condom use patterns—we know that a lot of guys have erectile difficulties when using condoms, so if guys today are using more condoms, that could translate to more difficulties.
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.
If you have unstable heart disease of any kind, heart failure or unstable, what we call angina, contraindication to using the medications. All right? So if you’re in an unstable medical state, these medications are not a good idea. Now, there are relative issues. If you may be taking a blood pressure medicine or a medicine for your prostate which dilates your blood vessel a little bit– you know, the typical ones are what we call the alpha blockers– you may have an additive effect from the medication. But for the most part, the medicines are incredibly safe.
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.