Accurate statistics are lacking on how many men are affected by the condition because it is often underreported, but it is estimated that about half of men over 40 in Canada have frequent problems achieving or maintaining an erection. The number of men suffering from erectile dysfunction increases with age, but it is not considered a normal part of aging. The majority of cases can be successfully treated.
The causes of erectile dysfunction include aging, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), depression, nerve or spinal cord damage, medication side effects, alcoholism or other substance (drug) abuse, pelvic surgery including radical prostatectomy, pelvic radiation, penile/perineal/pelvic trauma such as pelvic fracture, Peyronie's disease (a disorder that causes curvature of the penis and sometimes painful erections), and low testosterone levels.
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Erectile dysfunction in older men. Because erections primarily involve the blood vessels, it is not surprising that the most common causes in older men are conditions that block blood flow to the penis, such as atherosclerosis or diabetes. Another vascular cause may be a faulty vein, which lets blood drain too quickly from the penis. Other physical disorders, as well as hormonal imbalances and certain operations, may also result in erectile dysfunction.
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:
The article, "Inactivation of phosphorylated endothelial nitric oxide synthase (Ser-1177) by O-GlcNAc in diabetes-associated erectile dysfunction," appears in the Aug. 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was published online Aug. 5. Melissa F. Kramer and Robyn E. Becker, also of the Brady Urological Institute, collaborated on this study.
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.
Erectile dysfunction isn’t just about not being able to achieve an erection. Often times men can get an erection and still suffer from some of the early symptoms of erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection that’s strong enough to have “satisfactory” sex. Satisfaction is the key word in that definition. And it encompasses a lot.
Cigarette smoking is a risk factor for ED, according to the 2014 Report of the U.S. Surgeon General. Excess weight can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. A 2004 Italian study found that one-third of their 110 obese study subjects were able to eliminate their erectile dysfunction problems by losing fifteen percent of their weight through diet and exercise.
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, your ED may well have a psychological link. To confirm this diagnosis, you may want to complete a full psychological evaluation. This is particularly important if you suspect that your ED has something to do with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression that might require additional treatment, either medical or psychosocial.
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.
Prostate cancer isn’t considered a cause of ED on its own, but radiation treatments, hormone therapy, and surgery to remove the entire prostate gland can lead to difficulty in getting or keeping an erection. Sometimes erectile dysfunction related to prostate cancer treatment is only temporary, but many guys experience ongoing difficulties that need to be addressed by other means.
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.
Risks associated with injection therapy including bleeding, pain with injection, penile pain, priapism, and corporal fibrosis (scarring inside of the corpora cavernosa). There is also concern that repetitive injections in the same area could cause scar tissue to build up in the tunica albuginea that could create penile curvature. Thus, doctors recommended that one alternate sides with injection and perform injections no more frequent than every other day.
Erectile dysfunction, often referred to as ED, is characterized by a persistent and recurring inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Psychological, physical and lifestyle issues can all cause ED, as can trauma to nerves and arteries. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases with age, but young men can also experience it.
Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.
Alcohol is a depressant, not an aphrodisiac or a libido enhancer. Excessive consumption can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection at any age, and even occasional drinking can make erectile dysfunction worse in older men. Feloney advises using alcohol in moderation: "In small amounts, alcohol can relieve anxiety and may help with erectile dysfunction, but if you drink too much, it can cause erectile dysfunction or make the problem worse."
Total testosterone levels: Health care professionals should obtain a patient's blood samples for total testosterone levels in the early morning (before 8 a.m.) because the testosterone levels go up and down throughout the day. If you have a low testosterone level, a health care professional should check it again to confirm that it is truly low. In some men, a specialized test measuring the active form of testosterone (free or bioavailable testosterone) may be recommended.
Depression. The profound sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness that characterize depression may also cause ED among younger men. “The biggest effect of depression is on a man’s desire for sexual relations, or libido,” says Drogo Montague, MD, director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction in the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “To some extent, depression can affect a man’s ability to maintain an erection. It can be a chicken-and-egg situation. However, reduced libido is a common indicator of depression.”
Tobacco use though, was not found to be a significant determinant of sexual dysfunction. This is contrary to all reported evidence. This finding is most likely to be due to our treatment of tobacco use as a categorical (present / absent) variable in a situation where almost 90% of the sample was using tobacco. Future studies need to use indices of severity to avoid this error.
“With the success of Viagra-type drugs, there has been a tendency to start all patients with ED on one of these drugs and not look much further for a medical cause. But we now know that ED may be an early warning for heart and blood vessel disease, so it is important to look for common risk factors. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, medications, smoking, drinking, and drugs,” said Dr. Wang.
Once you have talked to your partner about your issues, you may want to consider taking things one step further with psychosexual therapy. This is a form of therapy in which both you and your partner see a therapist together. The therapist will help you and your partner break out of the cycle of stress and disappointment that has been coloring your sex life and contributing to your ED. Going to a therapist with your partner may also help you work out any relationship issues that have been affecting your sex life so the both of you will be more satisfied.
Before a man concludes that oral drugs don’t work for him, he should have his testosterone levels checked to rule out hormone deficiency as the cause of (or as a contributor to) his sexual dysfunction. Other symptoms of low testosterone include a low sex drive and infertility. Checking testosterone levels requires a blood test. If a man’s levels of testosterone are decreased or at the lower end of normal, his doctor may prescribe supplemental testosterone therapy, either as testosterone injections or testosterone gel, which is applied daily to the skin. In some cases, testosterone therapy alone can resolve sexual dysfunction, or it can be combined with the use of oral erectile dysfunction drugs.
For best results, men with ED take these pills about an hour or two before having sex. The drugs require normal nerve function to the penis. PDE5 inhibitors improve on normal erectile responses helping blood flow into the penis. Use these drugs as directed. About 7 out of 10 men do well and have better erections. Response rates are lower for Diabetics and cancer patients.
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Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure. Los of desire or interest in sexual activity can be psychological or due to low testosterone levels.
Supplements are popular and often cheaper than prescription drugs for ED. However, supplements have not been tested to see how well they work or if they are a safe treatment for ED. Patients should know that many over-the-counter drugs have been found on drug testing to have ‘bootlegged' PDE 5 Inhibitors as their main ingredient. The amounts of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra or Stendra that may be in these supplements is not under quality control and may differ from pill to pill. The FDA has issued consumer warnings and alerts.
To give you some evidence of the link between anxiety, stress, and ED consider the results of a study published in a 2015 edition of Comprehensive Psychiatry. In a study of case records for 64 men with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, there was a significant link between ED and anxiety disorders or depression. Of the 64 participants, 8 had comorbid depressive disorders and 15 had anxiety disorders. In the majority of patients, these disorders predated the onset of sexual dysfunction which suggests that the disorders may have been a contributing factor.
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.
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.
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.
If this treatment approach fails, it is useful, however frustrating, to start again from the beginning. Reassess the history to ensure that nothing was missed originally. Obtain labs and perform a PCDU. This will give the objective information that you might need in order to make a diagnosis of a known etiology for ED and to provide the patient reassurance that your evaluation has been thorough.
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).
For obvious reasons, ED can be a sensitive subject, one that until relatively recently men were more likely to try to hide than to deal with. Fortunately, a deeper understanding of the variety of causes of erectile dysfunction has led to medications, therapies, and other treatments that can be more individualized and more likely to be effective—and more open discussion about addressing the concern.
Like all diabetic complications, ED can occur even when you have followed your doctor’s advice and carefully managed your diabetes. Also like all diabetes complications, ED is less likely to occur with good blood sugar control. Poorly controlled diabetes and high cholesterol increase the chances of vascular complications, which may lead to ED or other circulatory problems. In addition, regular smoking and alcohol use can contribute to ED.