There are many factors that can lead to ED. “Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction in young men can include performance anxiety, guilt about sex in general, guilt about having sex with a particular partner, feelings of anger or resentment towards a partner, or simply finding a partner undesirable,” said Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist on the clinical faculty of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles.
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.
Researchers have found that one particular simple sugar, present in increased levels in diabetics, interferes with the chain of events needed to achieve and maintain erection and can lead to permanent penile impairment over time. The results, which have implications for new types of erectile dysfunction treatments targeting this mechanism of erection, are described in the August 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But when you or your partner notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a doctor to discover the underlying cause of your ED. Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of serious health conditions, like heart disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, low testosterone, and high cholesterol are all causes of ED in otherwise healthy men. Don’t assume that it’ll pass—especially if symptoms get worse over time.
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.
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Patient can inject medications directly into the corpora cavernosa to help attain and maintain erections. Medications such as papaverine hydrochloride, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1 (alprostadil) can be used alone or in combinations to attain erections. All of these medications are vasodilators and work by increasing blood flow into the penis. Prostaglandin E1 (Caverject, Edex) is easier to obtain; however, it is associated with penile pain in some individuals. The use of combinations of two or three of these medications can decrease the risk of having penile pain.
Describing the epidemiology of ED in young men requires, first of all, defining what it is meant by youth. While the definition of old age is matter of discussion and a precise threshold does not exist, the most shared definition in Western Countries is age above 65 years (http://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/ageingdefnolder/en/). Considering that most of the epidemiological studies on general populations aimed at studying health changes with age, enrol men more than 40 years, it seems reasonable to define young age as below 40 years. Epidemiological studies on erectile function, which considered the prevalence of ED according to age bands, consistently find a significant increase with ageing. Advancing age remains one of the most important unmodifiable risk factors for ED (1). Studies on ED mostly involve middle-aged and older men, with younger aged men often overlooked. In a multi-centre worldwide study, involving more than 27,000 men from eight countries, Rosen et al. (2) showed an ED prevalence of 8% among men aged 20–29 years and 11% among those aged 30–39 years. Most of the studies involving younger men and conducting age-stratified analyses have been performed in Europe, where the prevalence of ED in men younger than 40 years ranges between 1% to 10% (3-10). The prevalence reported in these studies is highly variable due to different methodologies used in defining ED, population accrual, acquisition of data and choice of tools for investigating erectile function. A smaller number of studies on this topic have been conducted outside Europe. Both in Australia (11,12) and in America (13-15), the available information suggests a similar range of prevalence of ED among young subjects, with the same extent of variability among studies. According to these data, ED in younger men, although still not extensively studied and largely overlooked by the scientific community, is a quite common condition. In a recent study conducted in a Urology Clinic, it has been observed that one out of four men seeking medical care for ED was younger than 40 years (16). In our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit, established in an Endocrinology setting at the University of Florence, medical consultations for younger men are infrequent, with a prevalence of men aged less than 40 years at only 14.1% of more than 3,000 men complaining of ED. However, when considering the new referrals to our Unit during the last 6 years, we can notice a progressive increase in prevalence of men below 40 years seeking medical care for ED (Figure 1). According to these data, ED is becoming a common concern even among young men, and the clinical practitioner in sexual medicine must become aware of how to manage the problem and avoid underestimating a symptom. The identification of ED in a young man may potentially provide a great deal of useful information that can help improve their quality and even length of life.
Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to ED. In a small study, 31 men newly diagnosed with ED either took tadalafil (Cialis) only, or took tadalafil while also following an eight-week stress management program. At the end of the study, the group who participated in the stress management program saw more improvement in erectile function than the group who took only tadalafil.
If not properly controlled, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause complications due to high blood sugar levels. Over time, these high levels can cause irreversible nerve damage and narrow your blood vessels. While nerve damage may affect the sensitivity of your penis, blood vessel damage can affect the blood flow to your penis and make it more difficult for you to get an erection.
After a full history and physical examination, the urologist likely has a perception of the etiology of the problem. Additional laboratory evaluations may be necessary to evaluate for specific types of organic disease. These tests might include serum chemistry, complete blood count, lipid profile, thyroid stimulation hormone/free thyroxine, and early morning serum testosterone to assess for metabolic abnormalities, such as diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, renal dysfunction, thyroid disease, and hypogonadism (16). These are not mandatory components of the assessment in a patient with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle as the source of ED.
Injury to the nerves and arteries near the penis can lead to erectile dysfunction. According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, surgeries for prostate and bladder cancer can injure penile nerves and arteries, although it doesn’t always happen. Spinal cord injuries can affect the ability to achieve and maintain an erection, as can injuries to the penis, prostate, bladder and pelvis.
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.
Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.
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.
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.
Fully restoring sexual health with treatment of a medical condition (such as high blood pressure with diet and/or exercise or by controlling diabetes or other chronic diseases) may not be possible. Identification and treatment of these conditions may prevent the progression of ED and affect the success of various ED therapies. Nutritional states, including malnutrition, obesity, and zinc deficiency, may be associated with erectile dysfunction, and dietary changes may prove a sufficient treatment. Masturbation and excessive masturbation are not felt to cause ED, however, if one notes weak erections with masturbation, this may be a sign of ED. Some men who masturbate frequently may have troubles with achieving the same degree of stimulation from their partner, but this is not ED.