Erectile Dysfunction is typically caused by a problem with blood flow in the penis due to the hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels of the penis. This occurs most commonly due to aging itself, which causes the smooth muscle cells that line the blood vessels to become stiffer and less able to stretch. This prevents the flow of blood that the penis requires to become erect.
In many cases, diagnosing erectile dysfunction requires little more than a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that an underlying health problem may be at play, however, he may request additional testing. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment – here are some of the options:
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.
Condom troubles. Can the simple act of putting on a condom cause so much stress that it actually leads to erectile dysfunction? Sure it can — in fact, one recent survey of 234 young men conducted by the Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago found that 25 percent had lost an erection while putting on a condom. “Putting on a condom requires a break from stimulation, and when it is on, it can reduce sensation,” says Dr. Montague.
Rates of erectile dysfunction have significantly increased over the last 15 years, especially in men younger than 40. In 2002, a review of 23 studies from Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia found that the rate of erectile dysfunction in that age group was two per cent. More recent studies suggest that erectile dysfunction is becoming more prevalent in younger men, with as many as 15 per cent of men in that age group battling it.
Care for these patients, who in many cases are emotional, demanding, and time consuming, may evoke feelings of frustration and anticipatory anxiety in the time-strapped urologist. Early in the encounter, the urologist must understand the patient’s psychosocial environment and establish a rapport and meaningful alliance with the patient and his family, if present (13). It is important to ensure that the doctor-patient interaction is informative and task oriented for greater patient buy-in and compliance with treatment (13,14). Affirm to the patient that regardless of the short time allotted for the visit that the doctor-patient relationship will endure even after the visit. This may be accomplished through a scheduled follow-up telephone call, electronic message, follow-up clinic visit, or a written letter. It may also be beneficial to refer the patient to a sex therapist or counselor though many young men will reject the idea that there is a psychosocial element to their ED and may refuse to consider therapy.
The association between psychiatric conditions and sexual dysfunctions, including ED, is well known. Data from population-based studies demonstrate a cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and ED (65-68) and, among men seeking medical care for ED, depression is significantly associated with a greater severity of the impairment in erectile function (69,70). A meta-analysis of the available prospective studies has shown the role of depression as a significant risk factor for development of ED (71). However, the relationship seems to be bidirectional, as also ED has been associated with the occurrence of depression (72). In addition, treatment with PDE5i is related with an improvement in depressive symptoms (72). Most of this evidence comes from studies not specifically designed for the assessment of this relationship in younger men. However, few studies available in younger populations seem to confirm these results. In an internet-based survey, involving more than 800 North American medical students with a mean age of 25.7 years, ED was reported by 13% of them and it showed a significant association with depressive symptoms, whose frequency got higher as a function of ED severity (73). In a population of more than 2,500 very young Swiss men, aged 18–25 years, participating to a survey on sexual function while attending the medical screening for the evaluation of military capability, ED had a prevalence of 30%. Among the possible correlated conditions, mental health showed an independent association, besides the use of medications without medical prescription, a shorter sexual lifespan and impaired physical health (74). The results from this Swiss study were then prospectively extended on a sample of 3,700 men evaluated at baseline and 15.5 months later (75). Among a number of different possible predictors, including life-style, drug abuse, perceived physical fitness and BMI, only perceived impairment in mental health and depression, either newly occurred or continuously present, were associated with both persistence and development of ED (75). In a retrospective population-based study from Finland, involving almost 3,500 men aged 18–48 years, the role of depression as a significant predictor for ED was confirmed, but this study also showed that anxiety plays a significant role and that ED is significantly less frequent in men with a longer lasting sexual life, thus underlining the positive role of sexual experience and self-confidence (76). Anxiety is often involved in the pathogenesis of ED at the beginning of sexual life. In fact, anxiety can lead to an excessive focus on quality of erection, thus providing a cognitive distraction that negatively affects the arousal and consequently the erection itself (77-79). On the other hand, anxiety can result from one or more sexual failures, with loss of sexual confidence, increasing fears and avoidance for sexual experiences that, in the end, lead to an increased probability of new failures, thus creating a vicious circle (77). Cognitive distraction could be also provided by excessive worry for physical, and in particular genital, self-image. In fact, it has been proposed that when most mental energy is focused on monitoring body, psychological resources are distracted from sex, resulting in an impaired functioning (80,81). In line with this cognitive explanation, a recent study conducted on 367 military personnel younger than 40 years showed that a deteriorated genital self-image is associated with sexual anxiety which, in turn, is associated with a higher probability of sexual dysfunction (82).
Hormonal disorders, such as low testosterone, may contribute to ED. Another possible hormonal cause of ED is increased production of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. Additionally, an abnormally high or low thyroid hormone level can result in ED. Young men who use steroids to help build muscle mass are also at a higher risk for ED.
Smoking. Smoking and erectile dysfunction are related as smoking leads to plaque build up in the arteries called cardiovascular disease, which restricts blood flow through the veins. Arterial sclerosis from smoking restricts blood flow, and thus can prevent the massive amount of blood required for you to achieve an eretion, resulting in erectile dysfunction.
Patients taking PDE5 inhibitors should avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol, which may cause a sudden decrease in blood pressure when getting up from a standing or reclining position. Although effects can be variable, symptoms may include a fast heart rate, dizziness, headache and fainting. Studies with some PDE5 inhibitors have shown a decrease in blood pressure and symptomatic effects when combined with alcohol.
You may find that using a vacuum device requires some practice or adjustment. Using the device may make your penis feel cold or numb and have a purple color. You also may have bruising on your penis. However, the bruises are most often painless and disappear in a few days. Vacuum devices may weaken ejaculation but, in most cases, the devices do not affect the pleasure of climax, or orgasm.
"Smoking is a short- and long-term cause of erectile dysfunction," warns Feloney. "In the short-term nicotine constricts the blood vessels that you need to get an erection, and in the long-term nicotine contributes to hardening of the arteries that can cause erectile dysfunction." Some approaches for quitting include making a clean break, avoiding the triggers of smoking, trying a nicotine patch or gum, and joining a smoke cessation program.
“I’d like to say that men are regularly screened for ED, but when it comes to busy doctors taking care of patients with diabetes, sexual function tends to fall lower on the list of complications,” said Stan Honig, MD, Director of Men’s Health, Yale School of Medicine. “I’d like to think that every doctor asks every man about sexual function, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
This is a 22-year-old man who presents with no medical or surgical history who reports that he has never had a rigid erection in his life. He reports normal libido, penile sensation, orgasm, and ejaculation. The remainder of his history is negative. His physical examination is normal with normal genital exam and secondary sexual characteristics. He reported no significant change in erection with PDE5 inhibitors.
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.
Lifestyle changes: One of the first things a young man can do to potentially improve or eliminate ED is make positive choices that will also have an impact on the rest of his life. Some changes a man can consider include increasing exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation. Where a man has relationship problems, seeking counseling may also be helpful.
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.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Now, there are lots of ways that you can reduce stress and anxiety in your life. One of those things you can do is exercising daily. Now, it doesn’t mean getting into a gym all the time, but it can just be doing sit-ups at home, long walks at the grocery store, bicycling, and if you can afford the gym, getting there maybe two to three days a week. But don’t forget, a healthy body equals a healthy mind. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises– now, here’s where you can take a few moments to be centered and communicate with your inner self, peace. Healthy eating– now, taking control of the intake of what goes into your body makes you to start feeling better and looking better. That wellness is the opposite of anxiety. And treating issues and tackling things that are weighing you down, taking that very first step is liberating.
Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other disturbances in sexual dysfunction. Episodic erectile failure in alcoholic men is fairly routine, found to be significantly higher in men consuming more than three standard units of alcohol (12 g ethanol) daily and in subjects smoking more than 10 cigarettes/day. Van Thiel and Lester reported that 61% of patients dependent on alcohol reported sexual dysfunction, the most common being erectile dysfunction followed by reduced sexual desire. Erectile dysfunction and reduced sexual desire were frequently seen to be coexisting.[6–9] Vijayasenan, found that of 97 male inpatients admitted for the treatment of alcoholism, 71% suffered from sexual dysfunction for a period of more than 12 months prior to admission to a hospital. The disturbances noted were diminished sexual desire (58%), ejaculatory incompetence (22%), erectile impotence (16%) and premature ejaculation (4%). Virtually all aspects of the human sexual response are affected by alcohol especially sexual desire and erection.
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
Your ability to orgasm is not connected to the prostate gland, although a man who has had a radical prostatectomy will have a dry orgasm with no ejaculation. As long as you have normal skin sensation, you should be able to have an orgasm with the right sexual stimulation. This means that treating your ED should allow you to resume a normal, healthy sex life.
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.
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a man is unable to achieve an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. In some cases the man is able to achieve an erection but unable to maintain it long enough to complete the sex act. Most men experience erectile difficulties at some point in their lives, but this is different from ED. According to the Mayo Clinic, those with ED will fail to achieve an erection at least 25 percent of the time. ED has several causes and alcohol consumption can be one of them.
The American Medical Association (AMA) estimates that more than 30 million men in the US experience ED. And they expect that number to double by 2025, largely due to the fact that erectile dysfunction is affecting more and more guys in their 20’s and 30’s. ED in your 20’s is becoming more common, and that can signal some serious health risks to a growing number of young men.
Ganio, M. S., Armstrong, L. E., Casa, D. J., & McDermott, B. P. (2011, November 28). Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men [Abstract]. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(10), 1535–1543. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/mild-dehydration-impairs-cognitive-performance-and-mood-of-men/3388AB36B8DF73E844C9AD19271A75BF#
The relaxing effect of alcohol and the feeling of well-being that comes with a drink or two have made alcohol humans’ favorite beverage for about 10,000 years. Though some studies confirm that alcohol (in moderation!) is good for your heart and circulation (which can work against erectile dysfunction), it’s important to remember that sex and alcohol are a delicate balancing act.
A vacuum erection device is a plastic tube that slips over the penis, making a seal with the skin of the body. A pump at the other end of the tube makes a low-pressure vacuum around the erectile tissue, which results in an erection. An elastic ring is then slipped onto the base of the penis. This holds the blood in the penis (and keeps it hard) for up to 30 minutes. With proper training, 75 out of 100 men can get a working erection using a vacuum erection device.
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!
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:
Alcohol consumption is a common behavior in social circumstances worldwide. Epidemiological studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption reduces cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The cardiovascular protective effects of alcohol may be attributed to its antioxidant, vasorelaxant, and antithrombotic properties, elevation of high-density lipoprotein or increase of nitric oxide production. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a harbinger of cardiovascular diseases. Most epidemiological studies have also found that alcohol consumption, like its relationship with coronary artery disease, is related to ED in a J-shaped manner, with moderate consumption conferring the highest protection and higher consumption less benefits. In epidemio-logical studies, it is difficult to distinguish the ethanol effects from those of associated confounding factors. Meanwhile, long-term alcohol users, especially in those with alcohol liver disease, are highly associated with ED. More research is needed to investigate the true effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular diseases or ED.
Given the different questions and response options used here, I’d be cautious about concluding that the NSSHB is necessarily registering a rise in ED among young men compared to the aforementioned US study from the 90s. Given that the NSSHB response options allowed for different degrees of severity, it’s likely that this study is detecting more guys who occasionally have mild erectile issues (issues that may not even be significant enough to prompt distress or clinical attention). Also, the NSSHB was bound to produce different figures given that participants only had to think about the most recent time they had sex, as opposed to recalling all sexual experiences over the last year (indeed, thinking only about a single, recent event could make it easier to remember a mild problem that would otherwise be forgotten). For these reasons, the NSSHB data just aren’t directly comparable to the 90s data.
What has been excluded entirely from all recent discussions of ED in young men is a concept presented many years ago—the concept of increased sympathetic tone as an organic etiology of “psychogenic” erectile dysfunction in young men (5). Previous studies have shown that elevated central sympathetic tone may be one cause of impotence (6,7). This article focuses on the presentation, work-up, and treatment of young men (age: 16–35 years old) with complaints of ED, and we will attempt to present a new method of approaching these patients. It is important to identify the precise etiology of ED in these men before proceeding with potentially unnecessary evaluation and treatment as the process can be anxiety-provoking, invasive, and costly and may provide an unreliable diagnosis which produces further psychological distress in these psychologically fragile young men.
L-arginine is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the human body and helps make that magic nitric oxide so important for supporting an erection. A 1999 study observed the effects of six weeks of L-arginine administered daily among men with ED. One third of those who took five grams per day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function.
If you have unstable heart disease of any kind, heart failure or unstable, what we call angina, contraindication to using the medications. All right? So if you’re in an unstable medical state, these medications are not a good idea. Now, there are relative issues. If you may be taking a blood pressure medicine or a medicine for your prostate which dilates your blood vessel a little bit– you know, the typical ones are what we call the alpha blockers– you may have an additive effect from the medication. But for the most part, the medicines are incredibly safe.
ED has been for long time considered a problem mainly related to psychological conditions and distress. Accordingly, until phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) were introduced, psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioural therapy were the only option for ED. In the last few decades, ED has been recognized as a clinical consequence of several different organic diseases and the importance of vascular health in erectile function has been so emphasized that ED is now considered not only the result of vascular impairment, but also a harbinger of forthcoming cardiovascular (CV) events (17). Despite the increasing attention of research towards organic mechanisms and conditions leading to ED, it is now known that considering this symptom as entirely due to organic disorders, is as imprecise as considering it only secondary to psychological conditions. In fact, this pathogenetic dichotomy is now obsolete (1,18,19), because it is now known that ED is a multidimensional disorder deriving from the interaction of different components related to organic conditions, relational context and psychological status (20,21). Even when only one of these components is involved in the initial development of erectile impairment, eventually the other ones will appear, thus further worsening ED (21-23). The multidimensional nature of ED is still not fully accepted by health care professionals when dealing with young patients. In fact, complaints of ED in young men is often underestimated and attributed to transient and self-limiting psychological conditions, such as performance anxiety. Young patients are often reassured without any further medical investigations, including physical exam. However, organic disorders, as well as relational and psychological or psychiatric conditions, can be meaningful in determining ED in younger men. In a population of subjects seeking medical care at the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for sexual dysfunction, the first tertile of age (n=1,873 subjects) represents younger subjects (18–44 years). Pathogenetic components of ED in our sample are investigated by the Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction (SIEDY), a structured interview including 13 questions, whose answers, organized in a Likert scale, provide three scales, one for the organic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 1); (22)], one for the relational subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 2); (23)] and one for the intrapsychic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 3); (21)]. According to these scale scores, organic, relational and intrapsychic conditions are all significant risk factors for ED in younger patients of our population (Figure 2).
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.