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.
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.
Occasional difficulties in bed do not constitute ED – it is the persistent and consistent inability to maintain an erection through satisfactory intercourse. It is more common than men might think, given that they are loath to discuss it with others, often even their doctors. The condition has many causes and, as a result, affects men of all ages – though it becomes increasingly prevalent with age.
Psychological causes are less common than we thought but more often the cause in younger men. Performance anxiety triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline causes blood to flow TO the vital organs, such as the heart, lungs and brain, and AWAY from less vital structures like the fingers, toes and the penis. Our bodies do this to cope with the physical stress of a physical attack or physical challenge, but sexual anxiety also triggers this reflex.
Association between severity of erectile dysfunction and SIEDY Scale 1, Scale 2 and Scale 3 (organic, relational and intrapsychic pathogenetic components of erectile dysfunction, respectively). Data are derived from a population of 1,873 men aged 18–44 years, representing the first tertile of age in a population of patients consulting the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for erectile dysfunction. Data are adjusted for age, smoking habits, alcohol intake and education. Erectile dysfunction is defined according to a previously validated definition (21) using the sum of the scores obtained from question 1A (Do you have full erection sufficient for penetration? Rating 0= always, 1= often, 2= quite often and 3= sometimes) and question 2 (Does it occur to have a normal erection which you are not able to maintain? Rating 0= sometimes, 1= quite often, 2= often, and 3= always) of SIEDY, which reproduce the definition of erectile dysfunction as “The persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual activity” (1). SIEDY, Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction.
Booze. Most men have learned: One too many cocktails doesn’t improve performance; instead, it can have the opposite effect. During a recent study of 1,506 Chinese males, the men who drank three or more drinks a week were more likely to have ED or some form of sexual dysfunction. “Men may find that alcohol decreases social inhibition, which makes it easier to approach a woman,” says Montague. “But alcohol is a depressant, and at higher quantities it can reduce both a man’s desire and ability to perform.”
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.
ED is common and has a significant impact on men and their partners. The first step is acknowledging that ED is affecting you and that it bothers you. If so, then it is time to get help. Often your primary care health provider can start the evaluation of your ED to determine if there are any potential reversible causes. It is important to be evaluated if you have ED as ED is often caused by medical conditions, which if not recognized and treated, could cause you harm. Did you know that the ED is a strong predictor of underlying cardiovascular disease? If you have underlying cardiovascular disease, your primary health care provider or a specialist (if needed) needs to make sure it is safe for you to participate in sexual activity.
If the patient reports intermittent ability to obtain and maintain an erection, evaluation with combined injection and stimulation test (CIS) will give you additional diagnostic and potentially therapeutic answers. It will determine if he has adequate inflow to obtain erection and if he has adequate venous occlusive function to maintain erection. It may also provide reassurance to the patient that his anatomy is functional. However, it is well documented that due to increased sympathetic tone these young men will often require additional injection or a separate visit in order to respond appropriately with complete smooth muscle relaxation (7,20,21).
Alcohol use. Excessive drinking of alcohol and binge drinking among young men, especially between the ages of 22 and 30, can lead to ED. I did my share of drinking in college, and found it was difficult to perform while intoxicated. Mild or moderate alcohol use can result in temporary impotence, and erections will return once the alcohol is out of your system. But, when drinking becomes excessive, it is believed that alcohol acts as a sedative on the central nervous system, thus depressing the male libido and sexual desire, which in turn inhibits the brain from sending signals to the heart to pump blood to the penis. A lack of blood flow to the penis prevents your ability to maintain or achieve an erection.
Few men want to talk about their inability to get or maintain an erection, however, erectile dysfunction can have a profound impact on relationships and self-esteem. Fortunately, trouble in the bedroom doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with erectile dysfunction. Most men will have problems with an erection at some point in their sexual history. But one bad day in the bedroom doesn't mean major sexual health problems. So how can you know if you're dealing with erectile dysfunction?
Poor cardiovascular health reduces your body’s ability to deliver blood needed to produce erections. In a study published in 2004, researchers followed male participants for 25 years. The researchers found that heart disease risk factors predicted which men were most at risk of future ED. Numerous studies have strongly tied four major cardiovascular risk factors to ED:
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and health history. They may do tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by an underlying condition. You should expect a physical exam where your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs, check your blood pressure, and examine your testicles and penis. They may also recommend a rectal exam to check your prostate. Additionally, you may need blood or urine tests to rule out other conditions.
Burnett, whose lab has studied penile erection since the early 1990s, continues, "the insight here is tremendous because it speaks to fundamental biological and vascular" mechanisms of diabetes. "This paper gets back to the physiological relevance of hyperglycemia and how it affects erection. We show here -- using erection as a model -- the vascular damage caused by diabetes and provide insights into vascular disease beyond this dysfunction," he adds.
Peyronie's disease is a condition associated with ED. Peyronie's disease is thought to result from minor repetitive trauma to the penis that leads to scarring of the tunica albuginea. It is often associated with a palpable scar in the penis, plaque. The scarring can cause the penis to curve in the direction of the scar, along with painful erections and erectile dysfunction. Some treatments for Peyronie's disease (excision of the plaque and placement of new tissue in its place, grafting) may cause ED also.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).
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).
Pelvic exercises, commonly known as Kegel exercises, were first described in 1948 by American gynaecologist Arnold Kegel. They are usually advocated by doctors to women after they have delivered a baby, and are not something most men are aware of. But Kegels help promote urinary continence and sexual health because they strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, pumps during ejaculation, and helps empty the urethra after urination.
Medications used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), including diuretics and beta-blockers, may cause ED. Not all blood pressure medications are associated with ED; alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin II receptor blockers don't appear to cause ED. If you are on a blood pressure medication, have an ED talk with your doctor about whether or not your medication may be contributing to your ED and if there is an alternative blood pressure medication that is safe for you to try.