Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to achieve or sustain a hard enough erection for satisfactory completion of sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction is different from other health conditions that interfere with male sexual function, such as lack of sexual desire (decreased libido) and problems with ejaculation release of the fluid from the penis (ejaculatory dysfunction) and orgasm/climax (orgasmic dysfunction), and penile curvature (Peyronie's disease), although these problems may also be present. ED affects about 50% of men age 40 and over. This article focuses on the evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction.
If you suffer from erectile dysfunction and you can’t blame it on underlying health conditions, you might feel like your problems are all in your head. While psychological issues may be at the root of your problem, they are just as valid as many physiological causes for ED. Keep reading to learn more about the psychological causes of ED and what you can do to resolve them.
Also, even if rates of erectile difficulties are rising in young guys, we definitely can’t say why. While many like to point to increased access to online porn as the likely culprit, we need to be mindful of the fact that a ton of other things could potentially be playing a role. For example, young people today are much more likely to be using antidepressants than they were in the past, which we know can cause a number of sexual side effects. There may also have been changes in condom use patterns—we know that a lot of guys have erectile difficulties when using condoms, so if guys today are using more condoms, that could translate to more difficulties.

3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.


The various PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of ED share several common side effects, including headache, flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, dyspepsia (stomach discomfort), and diarrhea. Differences exist in side effects of the different PDE5 inhibitors, and thus it is important to be familiar with the prescribing information of the PDE5 inhibitor you are prescribed.
Alprostadil should not be used in men at higher risk for priapism (erection lasting longer than six hours) including men with sickle cell anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), polycythemia (increased red blood cell count), multiple myeloma (a cancer of the white blood cells), and is contraindicated in men prone to venous thrombosis (blood clots in the veins) or hyperviscosity syndrome who are at increased risk for priapism.
Erectile dysfunction is when a man either can’t have an erection or can’t keep an erection long enough to have sex. For only 20% of men with ED, the cause is due to a psychological problem or disorder.2 When the cause of your ED is due to a physical condition, your ED is not a reflection on you or your sexual partner, since lack of arousal isn’t the problem.
Surprisingly, one of the main causes of erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence may be in that icy mug of beer you are enjoying right now! A common cause of difficulty with erection is overuse of alcohol. Small amounts of alcohol can help us relax and help remove inhibitions, which can help the sexual mood and actually increase sexual activity. Nevertheless, as the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol only serves to depress the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation.
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.”
Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.
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.
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.

Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
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.
Drinking in moderation can be beneficial to your heart health, and therefore your sex life. A 2004 study published in the journal Seminars in Vascular Medicine found moderate alcohol consumption was associated with decreased cardiovascular mortality due to the antioxidant capacities of alcoholic beverages. The polyphenolic compounds — a group of compounds that include tannins and anthocyanins — were shown to change the lipid profiles, decrease coagulation, increase fibrinolysis, inhibition of platelets, and increase nitric oxide. This is vital since vascular diseases (those that affect the blood vessels) commonly cause erectile dysfunction.
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.

This patient has thoroughly researched erectile dysfunction on the internet and has a powerful knowledge base from which he draws reference. He is also emotionally labile. The most urgent recommendation for this patient is that he seek appropriate psychiatric treatment to help in management of his psychiatric conditions and suicidal ideation. It was also recommended that he seek care with a sexual therapist to work through additional issues related to his “addiction” to masturbation. During his urologic visit we performed both cold and hot perception testing and biothesiometer, which were normal. He was displeased with these findings as they were incongruent with his chief complaints; normal results caused him to become tearful. A penile ultrasound was performed without injection of a pharmacologic agent to assess the appearance of his cavernous tissue and cavernous arteries, which had normal appearance and measurement, respectively, on ultrasound. (This quick bedside procedure has the potential to be both diagnostic and therapeutic for the patient; the importance of this cannot be underestimated).
Tadalafil should not be used with alpha-blockers (except Flomax), medicines used to treat high blood pressure, and benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH) because the combination of tadalafil and an alpha-blocker may lower the blood pressure greatly and lead to dizziness and fainting. Examples of alpha-blockers include tamsulosin (Flomax), terazosin (Hytrin), doxazosin (Cardura), alfuzosin (Uroxatral), and prazosin (Minipress). Tamsulosin (Flomax) is the only alpha-blocker that patients can use safely with tadalafil. When tadalafil (20 mg) was given to healthy men taking 0.4 mg of Flomax daily, there was no significant decrease in blood pressure and so patients on this dose of tamsulosin (Flomax) can be prescribed tadalafil. The only alpha-blocker not tested with tadalafil is alfuzosin (Uroxatral), and no recommendations can be made regarding the interaction between the two.
There are two kinds of surgery for ED: one involves implantation of a penile prosthesis; the other attempts vascular reconstruction. Expert opinion about surgical implants has changed during recent years; today, surgery is no longer so widely recommended. There are many less-invasive and less-expensive options, and surgery should be considered only as a last resort.
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