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.
Though psychological causes of erectile dysfunction may be more complex than medical causes, they are still treatable. You should know, however, that resolving psychological impotence may not be quite as simple as taking Viagra (sildenafil citrate). ED drugs are designed to sidestep the physiological causes for ED such as low blood pressure or vascular damage – they won’t help you with issues of anxiety, stress, or low self-esteem. The best treatment for psychological ED will address the problem at its root.
The lab testing obtained for the evaluation of erectile dysfunction may vary with the information obtained on the health history, physical examination, and recent lab testing. A testosterone level is not necessary in all men; however, a physician will order labs to determine a patient's testosterone level if other signs and symptoms of hypogonadism (low testosterone) such as decreased libido, loss of body hair, muscle loss, breast enlargement, osteoporosis, infertility, and decreased penile/testicular size are present.
Unconventional CV risk factors, such as impaired erections during masturbation and reduced flaccid acceleration, are interesting parameters to implement in Sexual Medicine context, because they can help fill the gap of information on CV risk, left by the conventional risk factors (the so-called residual risk) (38). However, it should be recognized that not all the healthcare professionals who deal with the complaint of ED (i.e., general practitioners, diabetologists, cardiologists, sport physicians, nurses, etc.) have the facilities or competence for the specific assessment of these parameters. In contexts different than Sexual Medicine and Andrology, the assessment of conventional risk factors is certainly more convenient. Metabolic syndrome (MetS) represents a cluster of metabolic derangements easily and commonly evaluated in several different medical contexts. In a population of more than 600 subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for ED, the presence of MetS was associated with an increased incidence of MACE during 4.3 years of follow-up in younger (first tertile of age: 18–52 years) (Figure 3, Panel A and B) but not in middle aged and older men (second and third tertiles of age: 53–60 and 61–88 years, respectively) (Figure 3, Panel B). Similar to MetS, the algorithms for estimating the risk of developing MACE are easily computed and they take into account factors largely available in a clinical setting. In Europe, the most commonly used algorithm is the SCORE, which takes into account age, smoking habits, systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol (26). These parameters are introduced in a calculation tool that returns the 10-year risk of developing the first MACE. The same estimated risk rate can obviously be derived from different combinations and extent of the single risk factors and, as aforementioned, age has a heavy weight in the amount of risk, even when the other parameters are normal. For overcoming this overestimation, the concept of vascular age, based on the predicted CV risk, has been introduced. Vascular age of a subjects with a specific CV risk profile corresponds to the chronological age of a subjects who has the same estimated risk but only due to chronological age, because of the absence of the other modifiable risk factors (i.e., a non-smoker, normotensive and normocholesterolemic subject) (39,40). Vascular age carries the advantage of easily and directly communicating the concept of high relative risk to patients, in particular to younger ones, who are by definition at low absolute risk (“Your CV risk is the same of a man that is 15 years older than you”). Based on this interesting and useful concept of vascular age, we recently studied the clinical consequences of having a high discrepancy between the estimated vascular and the actual chronological age in our population of men consulting for ED. In our sample, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with higher glucose and triglyceride levels as well as with impaired penile colour Doppler ultrasound parameters, suggesting a CV impairment (41). When evaluating the subset of men for whom information on incident MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with the incidence of MACE in younger, but not in older men (42).
Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.
Rates of erectile dysfunction have significantly increased over the last 15 years, especially in men younger than 40. In 2002, a review of 23 studies from Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia found that the rate of erectile dysfunction in that age group was two per cent. More recent studies suggest that erectile dysfunction is becoming more prevalent in younger men, with as many as 15 per cent of men in that age group battling it.
Excessive drinking is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol decreases the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation. As a depressant, alcohol directly affects the penis by interfering with parts of the nervous system that are essential for sexual arousal and orgasm, including respiration, circulation, and sensitivity of nerve endings, according to Health Promotion at Brown University.
Tadalafil (Cialis) is the third oral medicine approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Like sildenafil (Viagra) and vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil inhibits PDE5 (as described earlier). Unlike the other PDE 5 inhibitors, patients should take tadalafil once daily and is approved for the treatment of BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
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.
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Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to ED. In a small study, 31 men newly diagnosed with ED either took tadalafil (Cialis) only, or took tadalafil while also following an eight-week stress management program. At the end of the study, the group who participated in the stress management program saw more improvement in erectile function than the group who took only tadalafil.
Professor Michael Holmes, of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, one of the study’s lead authors, said: “Our finding is important as diabetes is preventable and indeed one can now achieve ‘remission’ from diabetes with weight loss, as illustrated in recent clinical trials. This goes beyond finding a genetic link to erectile dysfunction to a message that is of widespread relevance to the general public, especially considering the burgeoning prevalence of diabetes.”
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.
Prostaglandins (alprostadil): Alprostadil can be injected into the penis or inserted as a pellet through the urethra. It causes an erection without sexual stimulation that usually lasts about 60 minutes. The danger with this method is that too high a dose can cause priapism, an erection that won't go away. This condition requires immediate medical attention as it can cause serious bruising, bleeding, pain and permanent penile damage. Once the doctor is sure of the right dose, the man can self-inject at home.
Circulatory problems: An erection occurs when the penis fills with blood and a valve at the base of the penis traps it. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, clots, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can all interfere with this process. Such circulatory problems are the number one cause of erectile dysfunction. Frequently, erectile dysfunction is the first noticeable symptom of cardiovascular disease.
Tobacco use though, was not found to be a significant determinant of sexual dysfunction. This is contrary to all reported evidence. This finding is most likely to be due to our treatment of tobacco use as a categorical (present / absent) variable in a situation where almost 90% of the sample was using tobacco. Future studies need to use indices of severity to avoid this error.
An alprostadil cream that patients apply into the tip of the penis (the urethral meatus, the opening that urine passes through) is currently available in the UK and Europe. It is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After application of the cream, an erection occurs within five to 30 minutes, and the erection lasts one to two hours in men who respond to the cream. Doctors recommend that one use the cream for a maximum frequency of two to three times per week and no more frequent than once every 24 hours. It has essentially the same contraindications and side effects as the other formulations of alprostadil. The cream may cause vaginal burning in roughly 4% of partners. Men should not use alprostadil cream for sexual intercourse with women of childbearing potential unless a condom is used. Researchers have performed controlled trial studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this drug. Overall, 52% of men reported improvement in their erections compared to 20% of men receiving placebo. A later analysis demonstrated that 36% of men using the alprostadil cream had a clinically relevant improvement in vaginal penetration ability and 31% clinically relevant improvement in ability to have successful intercourse to ejaculation.
All three of these involve specific bodily systems including the hormones, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, and emotions. If any of these systems become compromised, it can cause ED. In the case of anxiety and stress, these things can affect the brain’s ability to send the necessary signals to trigger the desired physical response – an erection. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to an ongoing cycle of ED, as mentioned earlier.
In regard to circulation, alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which influences the way the blood moves in and out of the penis. A good blood flow regulates the relaxation and contraction of the penis, so it can get and maintain an erection. Without it, no matter how much you may want it to happen differently, your penis will simply remain flaccid.
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).