Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of more serious problems like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol. That’s why we call ED your body’s “check engine light”. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than the rest of the body, especially the blood vessels that lead to the heart and brain. So ED is usually the first sign of high cholesterol or high blood pressure before a blockage causes more serious problems, like a heart attack or stroke.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
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.”
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What happens is that the blood vessels of the penis are rather small, and a small amount of plaque in the penile arteries is going to result in erectile dysfunction. You need more plaque before the person’s actually symptomatic from a heart problem, but they’re linked. And so when anybody, any man has an erectile issue, it’s incumbent upon the physician to make certain that their cardiac status is healthy.
Infection is a concern after placement of a prosthesis and is a reported complication in 8%-20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If a prosthesis becomes infected (redness, pain, and swelling of the penis and sometimes purulent drainage are signs of infection), the prosthesis must be removed. Depending on the timing and severity of the infection and your surgeon's preference, the area can be irrigated extensively with antibiotic solutions and a new prosthesis placed at the same time or removal of the infected prosthesis and an attempt to place a new prosthesis made at a later time when the infection is totally cleared.
Many younger men are concerned that this will create a dependency on the medication.  However, you cannot become dependent because there is no tachyphylaxis to these medications.  This means, that unlike some other drugs (opiates, benzodiazepines) your body does not get used to these medications over time, so you won’t need to up the dosage over time to get the same effect.  In fact, we have found the opposite to be true.  Over time, many of our younger patients need less medication and need it less frequently.
You’ve probably heard of Viagra, but it’s not the only pill for ED. This class of drugs also includes Cialis, Levitra,  Staxyn, and Stendra. All work by improving blood flow to the penis during arousal. They're generally taken 30-60 minutes before sexual activity and should not be used more than once a day. Cialis can be taken up to 36 hours before sexual activity and also comes in a lower, daily dose. Staxyn dissolves in the mouth. All require an OK from your doctor first for safety.
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.
Pelvic exercises, commonly known as Kegel exercises, were first described in 1948 by American gynaecologist Arnold Kegel. They are usually advocated by doctors to women after they have delivered a baby, and are not something most men are aware of. But Kegels help promote urinary continence and sexual health because they strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, pumps during ejaculation, and helps empty the urethra after urination.
There is no evidence that mild or even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for erectile function, says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urology professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. But chronic heavy drinking can cause liver damage, nerve damage, and other conditions -- such as interfering with the normal balance of male sex hormone levels -- that can lead to ED.
Erectile dysfunction is your body’s “check engine light” because ED can be an early sign of serious health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or low testosterone. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body. So ED symptoms often occur long before more serious problems like a heart attack or stroke. When an otherwise healthy man in his 20’s experiences ED, it’s cause for concern.
Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
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.
As a starting point, consider the National Health and Social Life Survey, which was the first nationally representative sex survey conducted in the United States [1]. The data were collected in 1992 from thousands of Americans aged 18-59. As part of this survey, male participants were asked whether they’d had trouble maintaining or achieving an erection any time in the last year, to which they provided a simple yes/no answer.
There is also a significant population, which has psychogenic sexual dysfunction, which is likely in a situation of marital conflict, which commonly exists in the families of alcoholics.[18] There is some evidence of this with more than a third of the subjects reporting dissatisfaction with their spouses' responses and / or decreased frequency. This cannot be conclusive without data on nocturnal erection or sexual activity in alternate situations. One of the limitations of this exploratory study is that marital functioning was not specifically assessed.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
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The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
But when you or your partner notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a doctor to discover the underlying cause of your ED. Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of serious health conditions, like heart disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, low testosterone, and high cholesterol are all causes of ED in otherwise healthy men. Don’t assume that it’ll pass—especially if symptoms get worse over time.
Nevertheless, this study highlights the ubiquitousness of sexual problems in the heavy-drinking population. It also stresses the need for addiction medicine specialists to note the possibility of sexual problems in their clients. In addition, it highlights the need for sexual medicine specialists to consider the effects of heavy alcohol use on sexual functioning. However, there is ample evidence that alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction, for the most part, is reversible with cessation of alcohol use.[18] Thus, this information can be used in motivational counselling of heavy drinkers to provide impetus for change. Clinicians are well advised to routinely assess sexual functioning in patients with alcohol dependence.
Alcohol abuse is the leading cause of impotence and other disturbances in sexual dysfunction.[3] 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.[4] Van Thiel and Lester[5] 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,[10] 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.[11]
Some doctors prefer to start a man on the lowest dose of an oral medicine and increase the dose until an effective one is found. Others prefer to start with the highest dose and go to a lower dose only if a man complains of side effects. In either case, it’s important for a man to communicate with his doctor to let him know how the dose he’s using is working.
Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and can actually block nerve impulses and messages between the brain and body. This is why drunk people often experience slurred speech, emotional outbursts and difficulty walking. But even small amounts of alcohol will affect the nervous system, causing slower reflexes and fuzzy thinking. Moderate drinking—one to two drinks a day, for men—of any type of alcohol, may actually improve cardiovascular health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Excessive alcohol use and alcohol abuse, can cause scarring of the liver, high blood pressure and an increased risk of some cancers.
Physicians make a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction in men who complain of troubles having a hard enough erection or a hard erection that does not last long enough. It is important as you talk with your doctor that you be candid in terms of when your troubles started, how bothersome your erectile dysfunction is, how severe it is, and discuss all your medical conditions along with all prescribed and nonprescribed medications that you are taking. Your doctor will ask several questions to determine if your symptoms are suggestive of erectile dysfunction and to assess its severity and possible causes. Your doctor will try to get information to answer the following questions:
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.
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.

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.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. However, placement of a prosthesis causes scarring of the tissue within the corpora cavernosa, and if the prosthesis requires removal, other forms of therapy, except for the vacuum device, are often not effective. Thus, most physicians reserve placement of a prosthesis for men who have tried and failed or have contraindications to other therapies.
The bottom line is that nearly all men with diabetes who wish to have an erection adequate for sexual intercourse can do so with the therapies currently available. And with commitment and communication, the experience of erectile dysfunction can be changed from a potential personal tragedy to an opportunity for greater emotional intimacy in a couple.
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.
A 25-year-old male presents with a past medical history of mild traumatic brain injury, remote bilateral orchitis, depression, anxiety, and PTSD from childhood bullying. He presents with his mother. His chief complaint is ED that began at 19 years old. He reports that it is "hard to obtain an erection, takes a lot of work to get almost nothing out of it" and “extreme loss of sensation in specific areas” on his penis. He feels that this might be related to “over masturbation without lubricant” 1–3 times per day and reports that he is “addicted to masturbation”, using it as a coping mechanism to manage his PTSD. He reports strong, sustainable erections with tadalafil 5 mg and recovery of sensation when he uses marijuana. He has read extensively on the internet and self-treats with topical vitamin creams, self-administered laser treatment to the penis, pulsed electromagnetic therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment for ED for the past 6 months. He reports no change with any of these treatments. He reports reduced libido and has recently started treatment with HCG and testosterone gel for testosterone of 198 without any change in his symptoms with T of 450. His free T is normal. He lives at home, is unemployed, and is sedentary. He takes Wellbutrin. His physical examination is normal. His CBC, CMP, pituitary, and thyroid functions are normal. Prior to the visit, his mother called the clinic to inform personnel that her son was very sensitive, potentially suicidal, and emotionally disturbed by this problem. He has seen two other urologists already for his erectile dysfunction and been displeased with the outcome of his visits.
This is a 17-year-old male with a past medical history of insomnia, anxiety and depression who presents with complaints of gradual onset (2 years ago) of decreased ability to obtain and maintain erections adequate for intercourse. He reports normal nocturnal erections “most days of the week”. He does not masturbate because he feels that masturbation may have desensitized his brain and caused ED; however, he can masturbate and have an erection with normal orgasm/ejaculation. He has had a successful erection and intercourse with a partner, last time 2 weeks ago. He feels that his ED might have been associated with SSRI treatment but noted no improvement after stopping his SSRI. Cialis 5 mg is effective. He reports normal libido “but not where it was”. His testosterone (T) and free T are normal. He is in the care of a sexual therapist and has read extensively on the internet. He takes trazodone nightly for sleep.
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.
Instead of injecting a medicine, some men insert a suppository of alprostadil into the urethra. A suppository is a solid piece of medicine that you insert into your body where it dissolves. A health care professional will prescribe a prefilled applicator for you to insert the pellet about an inch into your urethra. An erection will begin within 8 to 10 minutes and may last 30 to 60 minutes.
In most young men with ED, additional testing to assess for the origin of ED is unnecessary as the history gives you the information that you need. With this said, it may be therapeutic for the patient to know his laboratory assessments are normal, in which case additional testing does add significant value to the assessment. From the history alone, we find that most of these men will have situational erectile dysfunction that responds well to low dose oral PDE-5 inhibitors. If the patient does respond well to these medications, the diagnosis of neurogenic erectile dysfunction, clinically significant arterial insufficiency, or venous-occlusive dysfunction can efficiently be ruled out. If the patient responds inconsistently or does not respond to the oral medications, additional workup should be considered, dependent on the additional history provided.

A man needs to try the medicine at least four times before he concludes that it doesn’t work for him. It is unlikely that a man with diabetes who has other medical problems such as high blood pressure, is taking multiple medicines, and has not had sexual intercourse for several years will be able to have an erection adequate for intercourse the first time he takes a pill. Most men need to try the medicine several times before they have the desired results.
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