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.
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.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and highly effective treatment for psychological issues in general, but also for ED. Facilitated by a therapist, this type of treatment helps you to identify and change unhealthy patterns of thought and action which may be contributing to your erectile issues. This kind of treatment is based on the idea that the situation itself (your inability to achieve or maintain an erection) is not the core problem, but rather your reaction to it. If you can learn to better understand yourself and your thought patterns, you can change them in a positive way to resolve your issues.
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.”
Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a man is unable to achieve an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. In some cases the man is able to achieve an erection but unable to maintain it long enough to complete the sex act. Most men experience erectile difficulties at some point in their lives, but this is different from ED. According to the Mayo Clinic, those with ED will fail to achieve an erection at least 25 percent of the time. ED has several causes and alcohol consumption can be one of them.
The penis is composed of three cylinders: two on the top, the corpora cavernosa and one on the bottom, the corpus spongiosum. All of these are involved in the process of an erection. The corpora cavernosa are composed of potential spaces that can distend with blood, causing rigidity of the penile shaft. The corpus spongiosum is important for rigidity of the glans of the penis. When aroused, stimulated chemicals are released from the nervous system (nitric oxide is one) that stimulate the arteries to the penis to relax and increase blood flow into the penis. These potential spaces, like a sponge, can expand when more blood flow comes in the penis. Each corpora cavernosa is surrounded by an outer coating the tunica albuginea. When the penis fills with blood, these potential spaces, the sinusoids, compress the veins in the corpora against the side of the tunica albuginea, thus preventing blood from leaving the penis. It is this compression of the veins that allows for the erection to become fully rigid.
Cultivating and maintaining a healthy relationship is not easy. It takes time to truly get to know someone and to trust them. If you and your partner are experiencing trouble with your relationship, it could very well bleed over into your sex life. It could also be the case that your erectile dysfunction is creating problems in the relationship – it is another example of the cycle of ED that can affect many different aspects of your life. Communication is the first step in resolving this particular cause for psychological ED but it is also one of the most difficult steps to take.
Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about for some men. Many men may feel like they need to hide their diagnosis from their partner. "Failure to communicate openly about erectile dysfunction can result in both partners drawing away from the relationship," warns Feloney. Remember that your partner is also affected by your problem; being open and honest is the best way to decrease fear and anxiety. Discuss options for achieving sexual satisfaction together, and be positive — most erectile dysfunction problems can be treated.
Erectile dysfunction is a common problem for more than half of men with diabetes. Musicki says that an estimated "50 percent to 75 percent of diabetic men have erectile dysfunction to some degree, [a rate] about threefold higher than in non-diabetic men." This is not the same type of erectile dysfunction seen in non-diabetics, and it is less effectively treated with conventional drugs like Viagra.
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
Medications used to treat high blood pressure (hypertension), including diuretics and beta-blockers, may cause ED. Not all blood pressure medications are associated with ED; alpha-blockers, ACE inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin II receptor blockers don't appear to cause ED. If you are on a blood pressure medication, have an ED talk with your doctor about whether or not your medication may be contributing to your ED and if there is an alternative blood pressure medication that is safe for you to try.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.
Problems with the veins that drain the penis can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. If the veins are not adequately compressed, blood can drain out of the penis while blood is coming into the penis and this prevents a fully rigid erection and maintaining an erection. Venous problems can occur as a result of conditions that affect the tissue that the veins are compressed against, the tunica albuginea. Such conditions include Peyronie's disease (a condition of the penis associated with scarring [plaques] in the tunica albuginea that may be associated with penile curvature, pain with erections, and ED), older age, diabetes mellitus, and penile trauma (penile fracture).
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.