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.
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.