An erection involves the brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and circulatory system. These systems work together to fill the erectile tissue in the penis with blood. A man with erectile dysfunction (ED) has trouble getting or maintaining an erection for sexual intercourse. Some men with ED are completely unable to get an erection. Others have trouble maintaining an erection for more than a short time.
For patients who have ED related to hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle and excessive sympathetic discharge, we recommend a trial of a low-dose alpha adrenergic blocker, such as terazosin 1 mg PO at bedtime nightly. We typically increase the dosage as needed every 2–3 weeks for 3–5 months until the patient experiences improvement of the erection or we determine that treatment is ineffective. We explain the potential side effects of orthostasis, dizziness, and retrograde ejaculation in detail. We also take great care and time in explaining to the patient, and his family/partner if present, the pathophysiologic mechanism of their erectile dysfunction and the biological basis of the treatment plan. This detailed discussion helps to engage the patient in the treatment plan and provides encouragement regarding the potential for response to treatment and recovery. During these encounters, we utilize teaching tools, such as diagrams, drawings, printed handouts, and other visual aids to ensure that the discussion is patient-focused and patient-friendly. Patient education is critical to exploring treatment options and developing confidence in our ability to treat the ED, and their own ability to overcome and eventually resolve the problem of ED.
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.
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.
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.
Though psychological causes of erectile dysfunction may be more complex than medical causes, they are still treatable. You should know, however, that resolving psychological impotence may not be quite as simple as taking Viagra (sildenafil citrate). ED drugs are designed to sidestep the physiological causes for ED such as low blood pressure or vascular damage – they won’t help you with issues of anxiety, stress, or low self-esteem. The best treatment for psychological ED will address the problem at its root.
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
The vascular processes that produce an erection are controlled by the nervous system and certain prescription medications may have the side effect of interfering with necessary nerve signals. Among the possible culprits are a variety of stimulants, sedatives, diuretics, antihistamines, and drugs to treat high blood pressure, cancer, or depression. But never stop a medication unless your doctor tells you to. In addition, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, such as marijuana, may contribute to the dysfunction.
Natural treatments: Although natural remedies are increasingly available for sale over the counter, there is little scientific evidence to support their claims of improving ED. These remedies may produce adverse side effects or react negatively with other medications a man is taking. Before trying any over-the-counter treatments, it is essential to consult a doctor.
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).
"One of the reasons erectile dysfunction increases with age is that the diseases that lead to it also increase with age," notes Dr. Feloney. Evaluating the causes of erectile dysfunction starts with your doctor taking a good health history and giving you a physical exam. Common medical issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, low testosterone, and neurological disease. Talk to your doctor about better managing these health conditions.
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