• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.


If on one hand, depression and anxiety can lead to ED, drugs commonly used for their treatment can cause ED, as well. Sexual dysfunctions are common side effects of several psychotropic drugs that can disrupt sexual health by several different mechanisms (83). In particular, ED has been reported in subjects using serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI), lithium and benzodiazepines (83). SSRI are associated with a broad spectrum of sexual dysfunctions, but the most commonly reported complaints are delayed ejaculation or anorgasmia and reduced sexual desire (84). Several mechanisms could be advocated including the agonist effect on serotonin receptors type 2 and the increase in PRL levels. ED is a frequent complaint as well (84,85). The relationship between the use of SSRI and ED can be secondary to loss of sexual desire but SSRI, in particular paroxetine, are also able to inhibit cholinergic receptors and nitric oxide synthase (86). In addition, it has been observed that SSRIs might down-regulate hypothalamic-pituitary-testis axis in depressed men (87).
Unfortunately, studies specifically considering the relationship between couple liaison and ED in younger men are not available. Although the aforementioned studies include also young men, thus making their results theoretically applicable even in this specific group, it should be recognized that mean age of men enrolled is usually shifted toward the middle-age, rather than younger age. It is conceivable that couple relationship can act differently in younger men because it could show peculiar characteristics likely affecting ED onset, maintenance, resolution or responsiveness to therapies, including the short duration, lack of experience in both the partners, limited privacy, fears for emotional involvement or worry for undesired pregnancies.

For most men, improving erectile dysfunction means improving blood flow to the penis. Immediate relief often requires medications that increases nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the penis. NO causes the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels of the penis to stretch, which increases the flow of blood. NO also keeps the smooth muscle cells younger and helps prevent and even reverse hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels over time. Proper diet (see more below) and regular exercise are key because both can boost NO.
The physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.
Some men say certain alternative medicines taken by mouth can help them get and maintain an erection. However, not all “natural” medicines or supplements are safe. Combinations of certain prescribed and alternative medicines could cause major health problems. To help ensure coordinated and safe care, discuss your use of alternative medicines, including use of vitamin and mineral supplements, with a health care professional. Also, never order a medicine online without talking with your doctor.
Erectile dysfunction is more common than most people think. About 40% of men will notice some degree of problem by age 40. The aging of the penis can begin as early as the late 20s but becomes severe enough to notice typically starting in the 40s. As men get older, their odds of getting erectile dysfunction increases by about 10% per decade, and the severity of the problem also increases.
"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.
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.
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in an optimal range will help protect your heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol management may include lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) as well as medications to get your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in an optimal range.
ED can also occur among younger men. A 2013 study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for ED were under the age of 40. The researchers found a stronger correlation between smoking and illicit drug use and ED in men under 40 than among older men. That suggests that lifestyle choices may be a main contributing factor for ED in younger men.

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.
Excess alcohol causes erectile dysfunction in a variety of ways. Have one too many, and it decreases the production of NO in your penis, decreasing blood flow. It can even prevent the prescription pills from working. A little alcohol may get you aroused, but a lot actually blunts desire in your brain and can make it hard to reach climax as well. Over time excess alcohol damages the nerves to the penis that trigger an erection, and eventually, when the liver gets damaged, testosterone levels plummet. If you drink, practice moderation.

Occasional ED is common in all men, including young and healthy men. But if you have a persistent or recurrent problem with initiating or maintaining an erection and it's causing you or your partner distress, talk to your doctor. “Lack of nighttime erections is another cause for concern, said Wang. These occurrences serve to nourish the penis with oxygen and keeping the blood supply healthy, he explained. "Young men should get four or five of these a night. If you are not getting these and you are having frequent problems with ED, you need to check in with your doctor,” he recommended.
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
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."
Many commonly used drugs can cause erectile dysfunction. Prescription medication and over-the-counter drugs can decrease libido, interfere with normal blood flow, or even cause absent seminal emission or retrograde ejaculation. In fact, 8 of the 12 most commonly prescribed medications list ED as a side effect. Medications that commonly cause ED include:
Erections are more complicated than you think. Your brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and a whole lot of hormones have to work together perfectly or nothing happens. It’s a lot to ask, and sometimes things break down. And while ED happens to most guys at some point in their lives, erectile dysfunction isn’t something you can just ignore and hope it goes away.
The common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
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.
In regard to circulation, alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which influences the way the blood moves in and out of the penis. A good blood flow regulates the relaxation and contraction of the penis, so it can get and maintain an erection. Without it, no matter how much you may want it to happen differently, your penis will simply remain flaccid.
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.
Intermountain Healthcare is a Utah-based, not-for-profit system of 23 hospitals, a Medical Group with more than 1,600 physicians and advanced practice clinicians at about 180 clinics, a health plans division called SelectHealth, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in clinical quality improvement and in efficient healthcare delivery.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
The second option is a prosthesis or penile implant:  a kind of hydraulic device surgically implanted in the penis. The prostheses consist of two rods that fit inside the penis, a pump that sits inside the scrotum next to the testicles, and a little reservoir that houses fluid that sits under the groin muscles.  When a person wants to be intimate, they pump up the prostheses; afterward, they can use a button to reverse it.

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.

In regard to circulation, alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which influences the way the blood moves in and out of the penis. A good blood flow regulates the relaxation and contraction of the penis, so it can get and maintain an erection. Without it, no matter how much you may want it to happen differently, your penis will simply remain flaccid.
“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.

For most men, improving erectile dysfunction means improving blood flow to the penis. Immediate relief often requires medications that increases nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the penis. NO causes the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels of the penis to stretch, which increases the flow of blood. NO also keeps the smooth muscle cells younger and helps prevent and even reverse hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels over time. Proper diet (see more below) and regular exercise are key because both can boost NO.
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