The penis is composed of three cylinders: two on the top, the corpora cavernosa and one on the bottom, the corpus spongiosum. All of these are involved in the process of an erection. The corpora cavernosa are composed of potential spaces that can distend with blood, causing rigidity of the penile shaft. The corpus spongiosum is important for rigidity of the glans of the penis. When aroused, stimulated chemicals are released from the nervous system (nitric oxide is one) that stimulate the arteries to the penis to relax and increase blood flow into the penis. These potential spaces, like a sponge, can expand when more blood flow comes in the penis. Each corpora cavernosa is surrounded by an outer coating the tunica albuginea. When the penis fills with blood, these potential spaces, the sinusoids, compress the veins in the corpora against the side of the tunica albuginea, thus preventing blood from leaving the penis. It is this compression of the veins that allows for the erection to become fully rigid.
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.
Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Similar to the general population (58), in subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, T deficiency is progressively more prevalent as a function of age (50). In a series of 4,890 subjects consulting our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit for sexual dysfunction, one in five (19.6%) and one in three (29.4%) patients have total T below 10.4 and 12 nmol/L, respectively (60). Clinical correlates of T deficiency show different figures according to patient’s age. In fact, we previously demonstrated that in the youngest quartile (17–42 years old), but not in the oldest one (62–88 years old), severity of reported ED and penile blood flow impairment (dynamic peak systolic velocity) were not associated to decreasing testosterone levels (50). It is possible to speculate that, in young individuals, intercourse-related penile erection is such a complex phenomenon that other determinants (i.e., intrapsychic or relational) might mask its androgen regulation and that T deficiency produces greater sexual disturbances in subjects with greater frailty, such as older individuals. However, reported frequency of spontaneous erection and sexual thoughts were significantly decreased as a function of T decline even in younger subjects (50). Moreover, in young individuals low T was associated with a worse metabolic profile, including hypertriglyceridemia and increased waist circumference (50). Accordingly, the prevalence of MetS in the youngest quartile was clearly associated with T deficiency, as it was in the older quartiles (50). Therefore, T deficiency must be accurately verified in all subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, even in the youngest ones.

Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men with diabetes. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, from 5% in men age 20 to 75% in men over age 65. The cause of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes is usually related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as to injury to the nerves that are responsible for the erection mechanism. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.
Studies show that high cholesterol and obesity are linked to erectile dysfunction, and both can be improved through diet. "A heart-healthy diet that prevents cardiovascular disease and maintains a healthy weight is also good for erectile functioning," says Feloney. An ideal diet plan involves eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and having frequent servings of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of whole grains.

Excessive drinking is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol decreases the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation. As a depressant, alcohol directly affects the penis by interfering with parts of the nervous system that are essential for sexual arousal and orgasm, including respiration, circulation, and sensitivity of nerve endings, according to Health Promotion at Brown University.
Relationship problems often complicate erectile dysfunction. Improving your relationship may be part of the solution. It may be a good idea to get counseling together from a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or a medical specialist. "I almost always see couples together to discuss erectile dysfunction. It often turns out that both partners have issues regarding the sexual relationship and once they are out in the open, couples can work together on a more satisfying sexual experience," says Feloney.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
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Men with diabetes tend to develop erectile dysfunction 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. As men with diabetes age, erectile dysfunction becomes even more common. Above the age of 50, the likelihood of having difficulty with an erection occurs in approximately 50% to 60% of men with diabetes. Above age 70, there is about a 95% likelihood of having some difficulty with erectile dysfunction.
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