Performance jitters. For some young men, the desire to perform well in bed can be so overwhelming that, in turn, it causes them to not perform at all. “When a younger man experiences ED, it often is associated with significant performance anxiety, which in turn increases the problem, sometimes turning a temporary situation (i.e., too much to drink that night) into a permanent problem,” says Jerome Hoeksema, MD, assistant professor of urology at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “The more they worry about it, the worse it gets. Young men need to recognize this cycle and try to reduce the ‘stress’ surrounding sex.”
Sexuality and erection are controlled by multiple areas of the human brain including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Stimulatory or inhibitory messages are relayed to the spinal erection centers to facilitate or inhibit erection (5). Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the inhibition of erection in psychogenic dysfunction: direct inhibition of the spinal erection center by the brain as an exaggeration of the normal suprasacral inhibition and excessive sympathetic outflow or elevated peripheral catecholamine levels, which may increase penile smooth muscle tone and prevent the relaxation necessary for erection (8). Animal studies demonstrate that the stimulation of sympathetic nerves or systemic infusion of epinephrine causes detumescence of the erect penis (6,7). Clinically, higher levels of serum norepinephrine have been reported in patients with psychogenic ED than in normal controls or patients with vasculogenic ED (9).
Problems with the veins that drain the penis can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. If the veins are not adequately compressed, blood can drain out of the penis while blood is coming into the penis and this prevents a fully rigid erection and maintaining an erection. Venous problems can occur as a result of conditions that affect the tissue that the veins are compressed against, the tunica albuginea. Such conditions include Peyronie's disease (a condition of the penis associated with scarring [plaques] in the tunica albuginea that may be associated with penile curvature, pain with erections, and ED), older age, diabetes mellitus, and penile trauma (penile fracture).
Booze. Most men have learned: One too many cocktails doesn’t improve performance; instead, it can have the opposite effect. During a recent study of 1,506 Chinese males, the men who drank three or more drinks a week were more likely to have ED or some form of sexual dysfunction. “Men may find that alcohol decreases social inhibition, which makes it easier to approach a woman,” says Montague. “But alcohol is a depressant, and at higher quantities it can reduce both a man’s desire and ability to perform.”
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).
ED can also occur among younger men. A 2013 study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for ED were under the age of 40. The researchers found a stronger correlation between smoking and illicit drug use and ED in men under 40 than among older men. That suggests that lifestyle choices may be a main contributing factor for ED in younger men.
With that said, the only data we’re going to focus on here are the results of large, nationally representative sex surveys because they offer the best source of information when it comes to trying to establish realistic prevalence rates and how they might have changed over time. Data from convenience samples of college students just aren’t reliable enough for these purposes.
Burnett, whose lab has studied penile erection since the early 1990s, continues, "the insight here is tremendous because it speaks to fundamental biological and vascular" mechanisms of diabetes. "This paper gets back to the physiological relevance of hyperglycemia and how it affects erection. We show here -- using erection as a model -- the vascular damage caused by diabetes and provide insights into vascular disease beyond this dysfunction," he adds.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
Erosion of the prosthesis, whereby it presses through the corporal tissue into the urethra, may occur. Symptoms and signs may include pain, blood in the urine, discharge, abnormal urine stream, and malfunction. If the prosthesis erodes into the urethra, a physician must remove it. If the other cylinder remains intact, it can be left in place. A physician leaves a catheter in place to allow the urethra to heal.
ED has been for long time considered a problem mainly related to psychological conditions and distress. Accordingly, until phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) were introduced, psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioural therapy were the only option for ED. In the last few decades, ED has been recognized as a clinical consequence of several different organic diseases and the importance of vascular health in erectile function has been so emphasized that ED is now considered not only the result of vascular impairment, but also a harbinger of forthcoming cardiovascular (CV) events (17). Despite the increasing attention of research towards organic mechanisms and conditions leading to ED, it is now known that considering this symptom as entirely due to organic disorders, is as imprecise as considering it only secondary to psychological conditions. In fact, this pathogenetic dichotomy is now obsolete (1,18,19), because it is now known that ED is a multidimensional disorder deriving from the interaction of different components related to organic conditions, relational context and psychological status (20,21). Even when only one of these components is involved in the initial development of erectile impairment, eventually the other ones will appear, thus further worsening ED (21-23). The multidimensional nature of ED is still not fully accepted by health care professionals when dealing with young patients. In fact, complaints of ED in young men is often underestimated and attributed to transient and self-limiting psychological conditions, such as performance anxiety. Young patients are often reassured without any further medical investigations, including physical exam. However, organic disorders, as well as relational and psychological or psychiatric conditions, can be meaningful in determining ED in younger men. In a population of subjects seeking medical care at the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for sexual dysfunction, the first tertile of age (n=1,873 subjects) represents younger subjects (18–44 years). Pathogenetic components of ED in our sample are investigated by the Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction (SIEDY), a structured interview including 13 questions, whose answers, organized in a Likert scale, provide three scales, one for the organic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 1); (22)], one for the relational subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 2); (23)] and one for the intrapsychic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 3); (21)]. According to these scale scores, organic, relational and intrapsychic conditions are all significant risk factors for ED in younger patients of our population (Figure 2).
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 common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
Medications used in the treatment of other medical disorders may cause erectile dysfunction. If you think erectile dysfunction is caused by a medication, talk with your doctor about drugs that might not cause this side effect. Do not just stop taking a prescribed medication before talking with your health care provider. Common medications associated with erectile dysfunction are:
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.
Malleable implants usually consist of paired rods, inserted surgically into each of the corpora cavernosa. The rods are stiff, and to have an erection, one bends them up and then when finished with intercourse one bends them down. They do not change in length or width. The malleable implants are the least mechanical and thus have the lowest risk of malfunction. However, also have the least "normal appearance."
The time the dose should be taken and how long the effects last depend on the medication used. The most common side effect of these medications is a headache. However, there is a potential for certain dangerous drug interactions. Anyone prescribed this medication must let his doctor know about any medications he's on, and especially if he's taking nitrates (e.g., nitroglycerin spray, nitroglycerin pills, or nitroglycerin patch) for heart problems.
"Smoking is a short- and long-term cause of erectile dysfunction," warns Feloney. "In the short-term nicotine constricts the blood vessels that you need to get an erection, and in the long-term nicotine contributes to hardening of the arteries that can cause erectile dysfunction." Some approaches for quitting include making a clean break, avoiding the triggers of smoking, trying a nicotine patch or gum, and joining a smoke cessation program.
“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.”
Psychological Causes of ED – Between 10% and 20% of ED cases have a psychological cause. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.
Ultrasound with Doppler imaging (ultrasound plus evaluation of blood flow in the arteries and veins) can provide additional information about blood flow of the penis and may help in the evaluation of patients prior to surgical intervention. This study is typically performed after the injection of a chemical that causes the arteries to open up, a vasodilator (prostaglandin E1), into the corpora cavernosa in order to cause dilation of blood vessels and promote blood flow into the penis. The rate of blood flow into the penis can be measured along with an evaluation of problems with compression of the veins.
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.
What happens is that the blood vessels of the penis are rather small, and a small amount of plaque in the penile arteries is going to result in erectile dysfunction. You need more plaque before the person’s actually symptomatic from a heart problem, but they’re linked. And so when anybody, any man has an erectile issue, it’s incumbent upon the physician to make certain that their cardiac status is healthy.
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).
A daily glass of wine, beer or single malt over dinner or after work with your buddies will not lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), inability to get or maintain an erection during sex. Overindulging, though, will short-circuit your sex life. Besides waking up with a major hangover, overdoing it will eventually lead to hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular disease, which interferes with blood flow to your equation is simple: the less blood flow, the soft and skimpier the erection. Unless you can drink in moderation, avoid alcohol if you want to be at your best in bed.
Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
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).
Prevention of some of the causes that contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction can decrease the chances of developing the problem. For example, if a person decreases their chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, they will decrease their chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Other things like stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet (heart healthy with adequate vitamin intake), and exercising daily may reduce a person's risk.
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).