Erectile dysfunction isn’t just about not being able to achieve an erection. Often times men can get an erection and still suffer from some of the early symptoms of erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection that’s strong enough to have “satisfactory” sex. Satisfaction is the key word in that definition. And it encompasses a lot.
Pelvic exercises, commonly known as Kegel exercises, were first described in 1948 by American gynaecologist Arnold Kegel. They are usually advocated by doctors to women after they have delivered a baby, and are not something most men are aware of. But Kegels help promote urinary continence and sexual health because they strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, pumps during ejaculation, and helps empty the urethra after urination.
Cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of erectile dysfunction in men older than 50 years. Cardiovascular causes include those that affect arteries and veins. Damage to arteries that bring blood flow into the penis may occur from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or trauma to the pelvis/perineum (for example, pelvic fracture, long-distance bicycle riding).
While there are many ways to treat ED today, men with diabetes may require maximum doses of medications such as Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™, yet still find drugs ineffective.7 In a study of nearly 20,000 men with ED, men with diabetes were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to move on to other treatments, such as pumps and penile implants than men without diabetes.9
Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.
Oftentimes, after a thorough history and physical examination, additional diagnostic testing is not necessary to categorize ED (17). Depending on concerns raised from the history and physical examination, directed lab-work or additional studies may be conducted to ensure that the patient does not have medical disease that might be causing ED. All men with suspected vasculogenic erectile dysfunction deserve a cardiovascular assessment (18).
If you’re experiencing psychological ED, you may benefit from talk therapy. Therapy can help you manage your mental health. You’ll likely work with your therapist over several sessions, and your therapist will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:
Many common medications for treating hypertension, depression, and high blood lipids (high cholesterol) can contribute to erectile dysfunction (see above). Treatment of hypertension is an example. There are many different types (classes) of medications for high blood pressure; these include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics (medications that increase urine volume), angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). Patients may use these medications alone or in combination to control blood pressure. Some of these medications can cause troubles with erections. For example, Inderal (a beta-blocker) and hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) cause erectile dysfunction, while calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors do not seem to affect erectile function. On the other hand, other medications (such as angiotensin receptor blockers [ARB] including losartan [Cozaar] and valsartan [Diovan]) may actually help with erections. Therefore, if possible, you may benefit from changing your medications, but this requires approval by your prescribing health care provider.
Patients should continue testosterone therapy only if there is improvement in the symptoms of hypogonadism and should be monitored regularly. You will need periodic blood tests for testosterone levels and blood tests to monitor your blood count and PSA. Testosterone therapy has health risks, and thus doctors should closely monitor its use. Testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.
Long-term erectile dysfunction. The risk for long-term erectile dysfunction has been linked to chronic heavy use of alcohol. In fact, studies show that men who are dependent on alcohol have a 60 to 70 percent chance of suffering from sexual problems. The most common of these are erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, and loss of sexual desire.
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
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The study, led by the University of Exeter and the University of Oxford, looked at data on more than 220,000 men across three cohorts, 6,000 of whom experienced erectile dysfunction. The research echoed recent findings that erectile dysfunction has a genetic cause, and goes further by opening the possibility that living a healthier lifestyle may help reduce risk.
“I’d like to say that men are regularly screened for ED, but when it comes to busy doctors taking care of patients with diabetes, sexual function tends to fall lower on the list of complications,” said Stan Honig, MD, Director of Men’s Health, Yale School of Medicine. “I’d like to think that every doctor asks every man about sexual function, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., Castagna, G., Clementi, M. C., Suardi, N., … Salonia, A. (2013, May 7). One patient out four with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction is a young man - worrisome picture from the everyday clinical practice [Abstract]. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(7),1833-41. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23651423
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.
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.
This initial release of NO causes rapid and short-term increases in penile blood flow and short-term relaxation of the penile smooth muscle, initiating an erection. The resulting expansion of penile blood vessels and smooth-muscle relaxation allows more blood to flow into the penis. This increased blood flow (shear stress) activates the eNOS in penile blood vessels causing sustained NO release, continued relaxation and full erection.
Obesity. Obesity itself is not a risk factor for ED — but there is a connection. “The bigger concern is that obesity can lead to type 2 diabetes or vascular diseases, which are risk factors for ED,” says Montague. Morbid obesity, a term used to classify individuals who are significantly overweight, can cause hormonal changes that are triggered by excess body fat. In addition, obesity can put physical limitations on sexual intercourse.
As a starting point, consider the National Health and Social Life Survey, which was the first nationally representative sex survey conducted in the United States . The data were collected in 1992 from thousands of Americans aged 18-59. As part of this survey, male participants were asked whether they’d had trouble maintaining or achieving an erection any time in the last year, to which they provided a simple yes/no answer.
The relaxing effect of alcohol and the feeling of well-being that comes with a drink or two have made alcohol humans’ favorite beverage for about 10,000 years. Though some studies confirm that alcohol (in moderation!) is good for your heart and circulation (which can work against erectile dysfunction), it’s important to remember that sex and alcohol are a delicate balancing act.
There is also a significant population, which has psychogenic sexual dysfunction, which is likely in a situation of marital conflict, which commonly exists in the families of alcoholics. There is some evidence of this with more than a third of the subjects reporting dissatisfaction with their spouses' responses and / or decreased frequency. This cannot be conclusive without data on nocturnal erection or sexual activity in alternate situations. One of the limitations of this exploratory study is that marital functioning was not specifically assessed.
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