The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Where alcohol may succeed as an aphrodisiac in getting people “in the mood” it may fail in execution. During an erection, the penis fills with blood then the vessels close, preventing backflow, so that the penis remains erect. In the short term, overconsumption of alcohol causes the blood vessels in the penis to expand, allowing for more blood flow, but prevents those vessels from closing. As a result, the penis may become erect but not remain so, as there is nothing to prevent backflow.
Erectile dysfunction in young men is an increasingly common chief complaint seen in urology clinics across the world (1). The international urologic community has taken an increased interest in this topic, with experts in the field of andrology and sexual dysfunction publishing multiple review articles (2,3) and an AUA Update Series Lesson (4) dedicated to this concerning issue. These articles skillfully address the epidemiology and diagnostic evaluation of ED and categorize ED (Table 1) into psychogenic or organic causes, addressing treatment options with specific interventions for each of the most common diagnoses.
Obesity. Obesity and erectile dysfunction in men has unfortunately become an epidemic in this country, affecting children, teenagers, young adults and up. This disease tends to follow men and women through adulthood, if not addressed. Obesity leads to heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. This trifecta results in the three main medical causes of erectile dysfunction.
Currently, there are no therapies that cure erectile dysfunction. However, a number of effective therapies are available that allow an individual to have an erection when desired. Depending on the cause of the erectile dysfunction, certain therapies may be more effective than others. Although there is limited data on lifestyle modification, intuitively, decreasing risk factors for erectile dysfunction may help prevent progression of disease.
Obesity. Obesity itself is not a risk factor for ED — but there is a connection. “The bigger concern is that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes or vascular diseases, which are risk factors for ED,” says Montague. Morbid obesity, a term used to classify individuals who are significantly overweight, can cause hormonal changes that are triggered by excess body fat. In addition, obesity can put physical limitations on sexual intercourse.
"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.
The improvement of both man and woman sexual function in couples whose male partner is treated with PDE5i has been further confirmed by randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing the effectiveness of PDE5i vs. placebo in improving couple sexual function (91-95). In a more recent RCT, the use of vardenafil 10 mg oral dispersible tablets has been compared to the use of the drug itself in association with cognitive behavioral sexual therapy (CBST) for 10 weeks in 30 couples with ED male partners, randomly assigned to one study arm (96). Results from this RCT showed that vardenafil is able to improve male sexual function, but this improvement is maintained only in patients receiving both vardenafil and CBST. Furthermore, female sexual function and satisfaction are enhanced only in the arm with vardenafil and CBST combined therapy, thus suggesting that a therapy healing the couple is more effective and has a longer-lasting efficacy than the use of a medication focusing only on ED.
In the evaluation of physical causes of ED, the health care provider is assessing for conditions that may affect the nerves, arteries, veins, and functional anatomy of the penis (for example, the tunica albuginea, the tissue surround the corpora). In determining a physical (or organic) cause, your health care provider will first rule out certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and vascular disease, low male hormone level, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which are associated with erectile dysfunction. Medical/surgical treatment of these conditions may also cause ED. In addition to these health conditions, certain systemic digestive (gastrointestinal) and respiratory diseases are known to result in erectile dysfunction:
Diabetes mellitus: Erectile dysfunction tends to develop 10 to 15 years earlier in diabetic men than among nondiabetic men. The increased risk of erectile dysfunction among men with diabetes mellitus may be due to the earlier onset and greater severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that narrows the arteries and thereby reduces the delivery of blood to the penis. Atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in the penis, as well as the arteries in the pelvis that supply the penile arteries. Diabetes mellitus also causes erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves that go to the penis, much like the effect of diabetes on nerves in other areas of the body (diabetic neuropathy). Diabetes can also affect the muscles in the penis, leading to troubles with erections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, poor control of blood glucose levels, and having diabetes mellitus for a long time further increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in people with diabetes.
Carrying extra pounds can impact your sexual performance, and not just by lowering your self-esteem. Obese men have lower levels of the male hormone testosterone, which is important for sexual desire and producing an erection. Being overweight is also linked to high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries, which can reduce blood flow to the penis.
A full battery of labs was ordered and returned normal. A PCDU was ordered which revealed normal arterial inflow with velocities greater than >40 cm/sec with increased end diastolic velocities suggestive of venous leak. After pharmacologic erection, he developed a partial erection that resolved within 1 minute. This was consistent with a diagnosis of venous leak impotence. Pharmacologic cavernosography was performed and revealed bilateral crural leakage. He underwent infrapubic bilateral crural ligation of the penis, which cured his ED. The patient returned to clinic 6 months later with recurrent impotence. A pharmacologic cavernosography revealed recurrent venous leak. Additional crural ligation via a perineal approach was performed. Two months later he reported normal penile erections, and the result has lasted for more than 5 years. He continues to follow up annually in clinic.
Once observed that the organic component of ED is the most important one in younger patients (Figure 2), the summarized evidence underlines that metabolic and CV risk must not be underestimated in younger men even when they are apparently healthy. In fact, it is particularly in these men that recognizing the presence of risk factors can help in changing life-style, thus really changing the natural history of metabolic and CV diseases. In older men the damage is often already established and the identification of further risk factors usually does not add information to the estimation of CV risk. ED is a symptom that can provide a chance for both the patients and physicians to unearth the presence of CV risk factors and improve both the quality and length of life of these men.
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).
All three of these involve specific bodily systems including the hormones, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, and emotions. If any of these systems become compromised, it can cause ED. In the case of anxiety and stress, these things can affect the brain’s ability to send the necessary signals to trigger the desired physical response – an erection. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to an ongoing cycle of ED, as mentioned earlier.