Erectile dysfunction is either physical or mental in nature. If you have erectile dysfunction and have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, low testosterone or thyroid disease you should see your doctor for a physical to be checked for any of these conditions. Even if there is no family history of these conditions in your family, it is recommended to be checked for these diseases anyway to rule out causes of your youthful impotence.
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 vascular processes that produce an erection are controlled by the nervous system and certain prescription medications may have the side effect of interfering with necessary nerve signals. Among the possible culprits are a variety of stimulants, sedatives, diuretics, antihistamines, and drugs to treat high blood pressure, cancer, or depression. But never stop a medication unless your doctor tells you to. In addition, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, such as marijuana, may contribute to the dysfunction.
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
The various PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of ED share several common side effects, including headache, flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, dyspepsia (stomach discomfort), and diarrhea. Differences exist in side effects of the different PDE5 inhibitors, and thus it is important to be familiar with the prescribing information of the PDE5 inhibitor you are prescribed.
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).
Not only can guilt affect your ability to perform sexually, but so can low self-esteem. The correlation between erectile dysfunction and low self-esteem seems obvious from one direction – an inability to perform in the bedroom can cause you to feel bad about yourself. But how does low self-esteem cause ED? Self-esteem is defined as, “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.”
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.
What has been excluded entirely from all recent discussions of ED in young men is a concept presented many years ago—the concept of increased sympathetic tone as an organic etiology of “psychogenic” erectile dysfunction in young men (5). Previous studies have shown that elevated central sympathetic tone may be one cause of impotence (6,7). This article focuses on the presentation, work-up, and treatment of young men (age: 16–35 years old) with complaints of ED, and we will attempt to present a new method of approaching these patients. It is important to identify the precise etiology of ED in these men before proceeding with potentially unnecessary evaluation and treatment as the process can be anxiety-provoking, invasive, and costly and may provide an unreliable diagnosis which produces further psychological distress in these psychologically fragile young men.
The best policy is honesty and clarity. If you understand the cause of your ED, as well as the solution, you can enlighten your partner and allow both of you to enjoy sexual intimacy along with everything else you both enjoy about each other. It doesn’t have to be a secret shame, because it’s a medical condition just like any other and fortunately its very treatable.
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.
The association between psychiatric conditions and sexual dysfunctions, including ED, is well known. Data from population-based studies demonstrate a cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and ED (65-68) and, among men seeking medical care for ED, depression is significantly associated with a greater severity of the impairment in erectile function (69,70). A meta-analysis of the available prospective studies has shown the role of depression as a significant risk factor for development of ED (71). However, the relationship seems to be bidirectional, as also ED has been associated with the occurrence of depression (72). In addition, treatment with PDE5i is related with an improvement in depressive symptoms (72). Most of this evidence comes from studies not specifically designed for the assessment of this relationship in younger men. However, few studies available in younger populations seem to confirm these results. In an internet-based survey, involving more than 800 North American medical students with a mean age of 25.7 years, ED was reported by 13% of them and it showed a significant association with depressive symptoms, whose frequency got higher as a function of ED severity (73). In a population of more than 2,500 very young Swiss men, aged 18–25 years, participating to a survey on sexual function while attending the medical screening for the evaluation of military capability, ED had a prevalence of 30%. Among the possible correlated conditions, mental health showed an independent association, besides the use of medications without medical prescription, a shorter sexual lifespan and impaired physical health (74). The results from this Swiss study were then prospectively extended on a sample of 3,700 men evaluated at baseline and 15.5 months later (75). Among a number of different possible predictors, including life-style, drug abuse, perceived physical fitness and BMI, only perceived impairment in mental health and depression, either newly occurred or continuously present, were associated with both persistence and development of ED (75). In a retrospective population-based study from Finland, involving almost 3,500 men aged 18–48 years, the role of depression as a significant predictor for ED was confirmed, but this study also showed that anxiety plays a significant role and that ED is significantly less frequent in men with a longer lasting sexual life, thus underlining the positive role of sexual experience and self-confidence (76). Anxiety is often involved in the pathogenesis of ED at the beginning of sexual life. In fact, anxiety can lead to an excessive focus on quality of erection, thus providing a cognitive distraction that negatively affects the arousal and consequently the erection itself (77-79). On the other hand, anxiety can result from one or more sexual failures, with loss of sexual confidence, increasing fears and avoidance for sexual experiences that, in the end, lead to an increased probability of new failures, thus creating a vicious circle (77). Cognitive distraction could be also provided by excessive worry for physical, and in particular genital, self-image. In fact, it has been proposed that when most mental energy is focused on monitoring body, psychological resources are distracted from sex, resulting in an impaired functioning (80,81). In line with this cognitive explanation, a recent study conducted on 367 military personnel younger than 40 years showed that a deteriorated genital self-image is associated with sexual anxiety which, in turn, is associated with a higher probability of sexual dysfunction (82).
The number of sexual dysfunction complaints was significantly associated with the amount of alcohol consumed per day. On curve-fitting the data, there was a significant positive linear relationship (F = 10.54; dF 87; P = 0.002) [Figure 1]. However, there was no correlation between the reduction in frequency of sexual intercourse over the last five years and the amount of alcohol consumed.
Poor cardiovascular health reduces your body’s ability to deliver blood needed to produce erections. In a study published in 2004, researchers followed male participants for 25 years. The researchers found that heart disease risk factors predicted which men were most at risk of future ED. Numerous studies have strongly tied four major cardiovascular risk factors to ED:
Other medical therapies under evaluation include ROCK inhibitors and soluble guanyl cyclase activators. Melanocortin receptor agonists are a new set of medications being developed in the field of erectile dysfunction. Their action is on the nervous system rather than the vascular system. PT-141 is a nasal preparation that appears to be effective alone or in combination with PDE5 inhibitors. The main side effects include flushing and nausea. These drugs are currently not approved for commercial use.
Mental causes of sexual dysfunction include: depression, stress, anxiety and insomnia. When one of these conditions leads to ED, usually once the condition is cured normal sexual behavior returns. If you believe you have one of these conditions, see your doctor for an evaluation before beginning any treatment. One side effect of antidepressants is erectile dysfunction.
Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
Many men who suffer from erectile dysfunction feel guilty about being unable to please their partner. If the problem persists, the guilt becomes more than just a side effect – it can contribute to the ongoing cycle of ED as well. Guilt is often paired with low self-esteem, and not just in men with erectile dysfunction. Guilt and shame are feelings that are commonly linked to mental health issues such as depression. In fact, feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt is one of the clinical criteria for major depressive disorder, according to the DSM-5.
In many ways, performance anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you become nervous about being able to satisfy your partner and the nerves lead to sexual dysfunction. In many cases, performance anxiety is triggered by negative self-talk – worries about being able to achieve an erection, pleasing a partner, or ejaculating too early. If you have had erectile issues in the past, those experiences will add to the weight of performance anxiety.
Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology and director, male sexual health program, New York University Langone Medical Center. Lecturer: Auxillium. Research grant: Pfizer. Data safety monitoring board: Pfizer. Consultant: Slate Pharmaceuticals. Clinical trials: Warner Chilcott, Vivus, Lilly, Bayer-GSK, ICOS, Timm, Schering Plough, Aeterna.
Erectile function can be impaired in several endocrine disorders and treating these conditions can improve ED (43). This is the case of adrenal insufficiency, whose treatment with glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement is able to improve erectile function (44). Similarly, an adequate control of thyroid function in hyper- and hypothyroid patients is associated with an improvement in ED (45,46). However, although ED is a common complaint in subjects with Addison’s disease, hypo- and even more hyperthyroidism (45-48), the prevalence of these disorders is subjects with ED is not so high for recommending the routine screening of adrenal and thyroid hormone in these men (49). In contrast with the low prevalence of adrenal or thyroid disturbances in ED subjects, testosterone (T) deficiency is frequently found in subjects with ED (49,50) and, in turn, low T is frequently associated with the occurrence of sexual dysfunctions, including ED, even in general population (51). Accordingly, the Fourth ICSM recommends the routine assessment of T levels in patients with ED (43). The assessment of prolactin (PRL) in ED patients is controversial because an actual pathological increase in PRL levels (severe hyperprolactinemia: prolactin ≥735 mU/L or 35 ng/mL) is rarely found in ED men (52). Furthermore, the role of PRL in inducing ED is still not clarified. Hyperprolactinemia has been consistently associated with loss of sexual desire (43,53) and development of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, both conditions that can in turn induce ED. However, a direct role of high PRL levels in inducing an impairment of erectile function is not consistently proven (52,54) and, conversely, more recent evidence suggests that lower, rather than higher, PRL levels are associated with impaired erectile function (55-57). For these reasons, at present, the assessment of PRL levels in subjects with ED is not routinely recommended (43) and it could be advisable only in men with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, as a possible cause of this condition.
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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.
Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
Keep your stress level down. Stress can interfere with sexual arousal and your ability to get an erection. Exercise, meditation, and setting aside time to do the things that you enjoy can help to keep your stress levels down and lessen your risk of ED. If you’re developing symptoms of anxiety or depression, consult your doctor. They may be able to refer you to a therapist who can help you work through anything that is causing you stress.