As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
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.
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.
"We used to think that ED in young men was 90 percent psychological, but we now know that most cases are caused by a combination of risk factors. Erectile function depends on hormones, blood supply, nerve function, and psychological health,” said Run Wang, MD, professor of urology at The University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and director of sexual medicine at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
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What happens is that the blood vessels of the penis are rather small, and a small amount of plaque in the penile arteries is going to result in erectile dysfunction. You need more plaque before the person’s actually symptomatic from a heart problem, but they’re linked. And so when anybody, any man has an erectile issue, it’s incumbent upon the physician to make certain that their cardiac status is healthy.
A 2013 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine evaluated 439 men for erectile dysfunction and compared ED causes and frequency in men 40 or younger to men over 40. They found that 26 percent of the younger men had ED. Although these men were healthier and had higher levels of testosterone than the older men, they were more likely to be smokers or to have used illicit drugs. In almost half of the younger men with ED, the ED was considered severe.
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
It would be convenient if a fairy dickmother flew from the sky and told you this would be the drink that renders you flaccid, but when it comes to figuring out your limit, you’re on your own. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how much will actually affect you, either; Dr Mills notes that some men may be able to drink a lot and get erections, as everybody’s threshold is different.

Getting blood glucose under control is a good anti-ED tactic. Men with diabetes and poor blood glucose control are two to five times as likely to have ED as those with good control. One study in a group of men who had had type 1 diabetes for up to 15 years with minor complications found that intensive blood glucose control lowered the risk of ED compared with conventional treatment. A study in men with type 2 diabetes found that lowering A1C (average blood glucose in the past two to three months) below 7 percent and reducing blood pressure through a combination of medication, diet, and exercise improved sexual functioning.
Our team includes a sex advisor/counselor who can help you understand what is making you anxious around sex, and give you techniques to decrease your anxiety about sex. He has also helped many of our younger patients get better at sex. We also have an exercise physiologist, who will work with you on both diet and exercise, which can have a profound effect on the quality of your erections.
Pharmacological treatment of T deficiency in the young essentially relies on the site of origin of the dysfunction: the testis (primary hypogonadism) or the hypothalamic-pituitary region (secondary hypogonadism). In the case of primary hypogonadism, the only available treatment is T replacement therapy (TRT). In secondary hypogonadism, patient needs dictate the therapy. If fertility is requested, gonadotropin is the only option, with the caveat of anti-estrogens in selected cases. If fertility is not an issue, TRT is again the primary choice (63).
Problems with the veins that drain the penis can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. If the veins are not adequately compressed, blood can drain out of the penis while blood is coming into the penis and this prevents a fully rigid erection and maintaining an erection. Venous problems can occur as a result of conditions that affect the tissue that the veins are compressed against, the tunica albuginea. Such conditions include Peyronie's disease (a condition of the penis associated with scarring [plaques] in the tunica albuginea that may be associated with penile curvature, pain with erections, and ED), older age, diabetes mellitus, and penile trauma (penile fracture).
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
"Stress and anxiety can adversely affect sexual performance and are common causes of erectile dysfunction,” warns Feloney. “Feelings of stress and anxiety can also lead to depression and a loss of interest in sex." It's important to get these feelings out in the open where you can deal with them. Issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include fear from previous bad experiences with sex, family or work related stress, poor communication with your partner, and unrealistic goals and expectations.
Cultivating and maintaining a healthy relationship is not easy. It takes time to truly get to know someone and to trust them. If you and your partner are experiencing trouble with your relationship, it could very well bleed over into your sex life. It could also be the case that your erectile dysfunction is creating problems in the relationship – it is another example of the cycle of ED that can affect many different aspects of your life. Communication is the first step in resolving this particular cause for psychological ED but it is also one of the most difficult steps to take.
If the patient complains of loss of sensation on his penile shaft or glans, it is useful to perform hot and cold perception testing and/or additional vibratory sensory testing with biothesiometer. These are tests that can be performed quickly during the office visit and provide useful information about the function of the dorsal nerve of the penis (Table 3).
It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more. While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.
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.
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