When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
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.
Alcohol use. Excessive drinking of alcohol and binge drinking among young men, especially between the ages of 22 and 30, can lead to ED. I did my share of drinking in college, and found it was difficult to perform while intoxicated. Mild or moderate alcohol use can result in temporary impotence, and erections will return once the alcohol is out of your system. But, when drinking becomes excessive, it is believed that alcohol acts as a sedative on the central nervous system, thus depressing the male libido and sexual desire, which in turn inhibits the brain from sending signals to the heart to pump blood to the penis. A lack of blood flow to the penis prevents your ability to maintain or achieve an erection.
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
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.
If the patient reports that PDE 5 inhibitors work poorly or inconsistently, we offer CIS to objectively assess erectile function and to provide diagnostic information. For the CIS, inject bimix (such as papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/mL—0.2–0.3 cc) and have the patient compress the injection site for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, instruct the patient to self-stimulate, then assess his response to injection. One could also combine penile color duplex ultrasound (PCDU) with the CIS. However, PCDU is expensive, may not be covered by the patient’s insurance, and may require increased dosages of pharmacologic agents, such as trimix (papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/alprostadil 10 mg–0.5 cc) to obtain complete smooth muscle relaxation. This often requires reversal of erection using phenylephrine after the study. In rare patients who failed to achieve and maintain erection with 0.5 mL of trimix, we may proceed with pharmacologic cavernosography or pharmacologic arteriography depending on the results of PCDU.
Nonsustained erection with detumescence after penetration is most commonly caused by anxiety or the vascular steel syndrome. In the vascular steel syndrome, blood is diverted from the engorged corpora cavernosae to accommodate the oxygen requirements of the thrusting pelvis. Questions should be asked regarding the presence or absence of nocturnal or morning erections and the ability to masturbate. Complete loss of nocturnal erections and the ability to masturbate are signs of neurological or vascular disease. It is important to remember that sexual desire is not lost with ED—only the ability to act on those emotions.
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.
Intraurethral alprostadil (Muse) provides a less invasive alternative to intrapenile injection. It is a pellet that is inserted 5–10 min before intercourse, and its effects last for 1 h. The response rate is ∼50–60%. It can be used twice daily but is not recommended for use with pregnant partners. Complications of priapism and penile fibrosis are less common than after alprostadil given by penile injection. The cost is ∼$18–24 per treatment.
Medications for erectile dysfunction don't work for everyone and may cause side effects that make a particular drug hard to take. "Work with your doctor to find the right treatment. There are still options for people who fail at medical treatment," advises Feloney. Alternatives to erectile dysfunction drugs include vacuum pump devices, medications injected into the penis, testosterone replacement if needed, and a surgical penile implant.
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.”
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.
Obesity. Obesity itself is not a risk factor for ED — but there is a connection. “The bigger concern is that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes or vascular diseases, which are risk factors for ED,” says Montague. Morbid obesity, a term used to classify individuals who are significantly overweight, can cause hormonal changes that are triggered by excess body fat. In addition, obesity can put physical limitations on sexual intercourse.
If the patient reports intermittent ability to obtain and maintain an erection, evaluation with combined injection and stimulation test (CIS) will give you additional diagnostic and potentially therapeutic answers. It will determine if he has adequate inflow to obtain erection and if he has adequate venous occlusive function to maintain erection. It may also provide reassurance to the patient that his anatomy is functional. However, it is well documented that due to increased sympathetic tone these young men will often require additional injection or a separate visit in order to respond appropriately with complete smooth muscle relaxation (7,20,21).
What’s good for the soul (cycle) may not be good for your member. The research is somewhat controversial, but the link between cycling and ED is getting stronger. In fact, anything that places pressure on the pudendal artery can result in penile numbness and impotence. For those of you who don’t remember these from anatomy class, this is the area commonly referred to as the “undercarriage.”
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.
Fully restoring sexual health with treatment of a medical condition (such as high blood pressure with diet and/or exercise or by controlling diabetes or other chronic diseases) may not be possible. Identification and treatment of these conditions may prevent the progression of ED and affect the success of various ED therapies. Nutritional states, including malnutrition, obesity, and zinc deficiency, may be associated with erectile dysfunction, and dietary changes may prove a sufficient treatment. Masturbation and excessive masturbation are not felt to cause ED, however, if one notes weak erections with masturbation, this may be a sign of ED. Some men who masturbate frequently may have troubles with achieving the same degree of stimulation from their partner, but this is not ED.
If you have been diagnosed with depression, stress or anxiety and do not want to take an anti-depressant or anxiety medication due to the side effects, then Mind Over ED, by Joel Block, MD might be the remedy for you. This natural technique requires no pills, and uses your mind to help you overcome many of the issues that cause erectile dysfunction permanently. If you already suffer from impotence as a result of your mental issues, drugs that treat these condition also lead to erectile dysfunction, so you will be on a never ending chase to cure your erection problems. I have been using this technique for three years. It cured my stress and anxiety quickly and naturally. Read more about it here.
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.