To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.
“With the success of Viagra-type drugs, there has been a tendency to start all patients with ED on one of these drugs and not look much further for a medical cause. But we now know that ED may be an early warning for heart and blood vessel disease, so it is important to look for common risk factors. These include high blood pressure, diabetes, medications, smoking, drinking, and drugs,” said Dr. Wang.
Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED.
The first is a vacuum erection device (VED). The device, which can be purchased on line and used at home, is placed over the penis, then pumped up to create a vacuum around the penis. This draws blood into the penis, creating an erection. One study found that the dropout rate with the VED was quite high, with only 50% of couples finding the treatment satisfactory. 2
Smoking. Smoking and erectile dysfunction are related as smoking leads to plaque build up in the arteries called cardiovascular disease, which restricts blood flow through the veins. Arterial sclerosis from smoking restricts blood flow, and thus can prevent the massive amount of blood required for you to achieve an eretion, resulting in erectile dysfunction.
In some cases, however, these drugs may be unsuitable for patients with heart disease. If you are considering one of these drugs and you have heart disease, as many diabetics do, be sure to tell your doctor. In rare cases, the pills may create “priapism,” a prolonged and painful erection lasting six hours or more (although reversible with prompt medical attention).