Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
These are among the most challenging patients seen in urology practice today: a young, healthy man with neither systemic disease nor a history of trauma, who has complaints of ED (Table 2). These men often have co-morbid diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, which make the issue of ED more complex for both the patient and the urologist (12). The psychological burden of ED in these young men is more pronounced than it might be in older men as this is the phase of life during which many men expect to be highly sexually active (4). These young men are usually technologically savvy and may have scrutinized much of the readily available information on the internet regarding ED. Often they arrive to clinic armed with an understanding of the diagnostic evaluation that may be offered to further investigate the etiology of their concerns. This makes the evaluation and treatment of these men more challenging since additional diagnostic testing is often not indicated after a thorough history and physical examination. In many cases, they may have self-diagnosed and self-treated based on the information that they obtained prior to seeing a physician. Many of these men will see multiple urologists on their quest to find a pathophysiology that they can accept, and many have unrealistic expectations of a rapid cure or a surgical cure.
Prostaglandins (alprostadil): Alprostadil can be injected into the penis or inserted as a pellet through the urethra. It causes an erection without sexual stimulation that usually lasts about 60 minutes. The danger with this method is that too high a dose can cause priapism, an erection that won't go away. This condition requires immediate medical attention as it can cause serious bruising, bleeding, pain and permanent penile damage. Once the doctor is sure of the right dose, the man can self-inject at home.
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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.
Psychological causes are less common than we thought but more often the cause in younger men. Performance anxiety triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline causes blood to flow TO the vital organs, such as the heart, lungs and brain, and AWAY from less vital structures like the fingers, toes and the penis. Our bodies do this to cope with the physical stress of a physical attack or physical challenge, but sexual anxiety also triggers this reflex.

Sexuality and erection are controlled by multiple areas of the human brain including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Stimulatory or inhibitory messages are relayed to the spinal erection centers to facilitate or inhibit erection (5). Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the inhibition of erection in psychogenic dysfunction: direct inhibition of the spinal erection center by the brain as an exaggeration of the normal suprasacral inhibition and excessive sympathetic outflow or elevated peripheral catecholamine levels, which may increase penile smooth muscle tone and prevent the relaxation necessary for erection (8). Animal studies demonstrate that the stimulation of sympathetic nerves or systemic infusion of epinephrine causes detumescence of the erect penis (6,7). Clinically, higher levels of serum norepinephrine have been reported in patients with psychogenic ED than in normal controls or patients with vasculogenic ED (9).
Additional information to obtain includes a psychosocial and cultural history to assess past and present relationships, emotional or professional stressors, current and previous psychological/behavioral diagnoses and treatments, educational level and employment status, and location of domicile. A methodical medical history should be obtained to identify medical conditions that might be contributing to the patient’s ED. A thorough physical examination should be performed on all new patients with emphasis on the cardiovascular, genital, endocrine, and neurologic systems. On physical examination in a man with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle, the penis may initially be contracted and tender to palpation. As the exam proceeds and the patient becomes less anxious, the penile tissue will often noticeably relax.
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Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure. Los of desire or interest in sexual activity can be psychological or due to low testosterone levels.
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“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.”


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.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.

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.
While there are many ways to treat ED today, men with diabetes may require maximum doses of medications such as Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™, yet still find drugs ineffective.7 In a study of nearly 20,000 men with ED, men with diabetes were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to move on to other treatments, such as pumps and penile implants than men without diabetes.9
Diabetes mellitus: Erectile dysfunction tends to develop 10 to 15 years earlier in diabetic men than among nondiabetic men. The increased risk of erectile dysfunction among men with diabetes mellitus may be due to the earlier onset and greater severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that narrows the arteries and thereby reduces the delivery of blood to the penis. Atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in the penis, as well as the arteries in the pelvis that supply the penile arteries. Diabetes mellitus also causes erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves that go to the penis, much like the effect of diabetes on nerves in other areas of the body (diabetic neuropathy). Diabetes can also affect the muscles in the penis, leading to troubles with erections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, poor control of blood glucose levels, and having diabetes mellitus for a long time further increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in people with diabetes.
Begot, I., Peixoto, T. C. A., Gonzaga, L. R. A., Bolzan, D. W., Papa, V., Carvalho, A. C. C., ... & Guizilini, S. (2015, March 1). A Home-Based Walking Program Improves Erectile Dysfunction in Men With an Acute Myocardial Infarction. The American Journal of Cardiology, 115(5), 5741-575. Retrieved from http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(14)02270-X/abstract
After a full history and physical examination, the urologist likely has a perception of the etiology of the problem. Additional laboratory evaluations may be necessary to evaluate for specific types of organic disease. These tests might include serum chemistry, complete blood count, lipid profile, thyroid stimulation hormone/free thyroxine, and early morning serum testosterone to assess for metabolic abnormalities, such as diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, renal dysfunction, thyroid disease, and hypogonadism (16). These are not mandatory components of the assessment in a patient with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle as the source of ED.

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.
When sexually stimulated there is a release of a chemical, nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the corpus cavernosum. The NO stimulates the production of a compound called cGMP, which causes relaxation of the smooth muscle in the blood vessels supplying the corpus cavernosum. PDE 5 is an enzyme that breaks down cGMP. By inhibiting the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5, these medications allow cGMP to build up in the penis. cGMP causes muscles in the corpora cavernosa of the penis to relax. When the muscle is relaxed, more blood can flow into the penis and fill the spaces in the penis. As the penis fills with blood, the veins in the penis are compressed, and this results a hard erection. When the effect on PDE5 decreases, the cGMP levels go down and the muscle in the penis contracts, causing less blood to flow into the penis and allowing the veins to open up and drain blood out of the penis.
Patient can inject medications directly into the corpora cavernosa to help attain and maintain erections. Medications such as papaverine hydrochloride, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1 (alprostadil) can be used alone or in combinations to attain erections. All of these medications are vasodilators and work by increasing blood flow into the penis. Prostaglandin E1 (Caverject, Edex) is easier to obtain; however, it is associated with penile pain in some individuals. The use of combinations of two or three of these medications can decrease the risk of having penile pain.

"Stress and anxiety can adversely affect sexual performance and are common causes of erectile dysfunction,” warns Feloney. “Feelings of stress and anxiety can also lead to depression and a loss of interest in sex." It's important to get these feelings out in the open where you can deal with them. Issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include fear from previous bad experiences with sex, family or work related stress, poor communication with your partner, and unrealistic goals and expectations.
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.
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