A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.

Describing the epidemiology of ED in young men requires, first of all, defining what it is meant by youth. While the definition of old age is matter of discussion and a precise threshold does not exist, the most shared definition in Western Countries is age above 65 years (http://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/ageingdefnolder/en/). Considering that most of the epidemiological studies on general populations aimed at studying health changes with age, enrol men more than 40 years, it seems reasonable to define young age as below 40 years. Epidemiological studies on erectile function, which considered the prevalence of ED according to age bands, consistently find a significant increase with ageing. Advancing age remains one of the most important unmodifiable risk factors for ED (1). Studies on ED mostly involve middle-aged and older men, with younger aged men often overlooked. In a multi-centre worldwide study, involving more than 27,000 men from eight countries, Rosen et al. (2) showed an ED prevalence of 8% among men aged 20–29 years and 11% among those aged 30–39 years. Most of the studies involving younger men and conducting age-stratified analyses have been performed in Europe, where the prevalence of ED in men younger than 40 years ranges between 1% to 10% (3-10). The prevalence reported in these studies is highly variable due to different methodologies used in defining ED, population accrual, acquisition of data and choice of tools for investigating erectile function. A smaller number of studies on this topic have been conducted outside Europe. Both in Australia (11,12) and in America (13-15), the available information suggests a similar range of prevalence of ED among young subjects, with the same extent of variability among studies. According to these data, ED in younger men, although still not extensively studied and largely overlooked by the scientific community, is a quite common condition. In a recent study conducted in a Urology Clinic, it has been observed that one out of four men seeking medical care for ED was younger than 40 years (16). In our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit, established in an Endocrinology setting at the University of Florence, medical consultations for younger men are infrequent, with a prevalence of men aged less than 40 years at only 14.1% of more than 3,000 men complaining of ED. However, when considering the new referrals to our Unit during the last 6 years, we can notice a progressive increase in prevalence of men below 40 years seeking medical care for ED (Figure 1). According to these data, ED is becoming a common concern even among young men, and the clinical practitioner in sexual medicine must become aware of how to manage the problem and avoid underestimating a symptom. The identification of ED in a young man may potentially provide a great deal of useful information that can help improve their quality and even length of life.
Research has shown that the same eating patterns that can cause heart attacks due to restricted blood flow in the coronary arteries can also impede blood flow to and within the penis. The blood flow is needed for the penis to become erect. Diets that include very few fruits and vegetables along with lots of fatty, fried, and processed foods can contribute to decreased blood circulation throughout the body.
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.

Getting blood glucose under control is a good anti-ED tactic. Men with diabetes and poor blood glucose control are two to five times as likely to have ED as those with good control. One study in a group of men who had had type 1 diabetes for up to 15 years with minor complications found that intensive blood glucose control lowered the risk of ED compared with conventional treatment. A study in men with type 2 diabetes found that lowering A1C (average blood glucose in the past two to three months) below 7 percent and reducing blood pressure through a combination of medication, diet, and exercise improved sexual functioning.
With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18
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.
To avoid the dreaded whiskey d---, you don’t necessarily have to stop drinking alcohol. Just drink in moderation. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women. The liver can only process 1 ounce of liquor or one standard drink in one hour. Consuming more than this will lead the system to become saturated, where extra alcohol will increase in the blood and body tissues, until the liver is ready to metabolize it again. Until then, high blood alcohol concentration will last for several hours and affect you physiologically.

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.
This man’s situational ED, possibly due to performance anxiety or perhaps fear of a repeat injury and pain. Structural, neurogenic, arteriogenic, and venous occlusive erectile dysfunction can be ruled out as he has normal self-stimulated erections. He responds well to low dose oral PDE5 inhibitors. Additional assessment with cold and hot perception testing and biothesiometer were performed due to his complaint of decreased sensation; both test results were normal. He was started on low dose terazosin once daily at bedtime along with Cialis 5 mg as needed. He is responding well to treatment.

We are writing this commentary to provide urologists with additional information regarding ED in young men and to open the discussion for new approaches to treatment of ED in young men. Hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle is an organic etiology of erectile dysfunction and should be considered in the differential diagnosis for these young men. Developing a system to explain the pathophysiologic mechanism of the dysfunction may make it easier to effectively treat these complex patients.
The key to treating erectile dysfunction is to identify the underlying cause. In many cases, it takes a fair bit of trial and error. Because the majority of ED cases are caused by physiological issues, your first step should be to talk to your doctor about your concerns. After completing a physical examination and reviewing your medical history, your doctor will ask you some questions and run some tests to rule out medical causes for your ED.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.
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