The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
Erections are neurovascular events, meaning that nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins) are involved in the process of an erection and all must work properly to develop a hard erection that lasts long enough. Erection begins with sexual stimulation. Sexual stimulation can be tactile (for example, by a partner touching the penis or by masturbation) or mental (for example, by having sexual fantasies, viewing porn). Sexual stimulation or sexual arousal causes the nerves going to the penis to release a chemical, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the production of another chemical, cyclic GMP (cGMP), in the muscle of the corpora cavernosa. The cGMP causes the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, and this allows more blood to flow into the penis. The incoming blood fills the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand.
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.
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.
Erectile dysfunction can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about for some men. Many men may feel like they need to hide their diagnosis from their partner. "Failure to communicate openly about erectile dysfunction can result in both partners drawing away from the relationship," warns Feloney. Remember that your partner is also affected by your problem; being open and honest is the best way to decrease fear and anxiety. Discuss options for achieving sexual satisfaction together, and be positive — most erectile dysfunction problems can be treated.
Surgery for erectile dysfunction is usually considered only after all other options have failed. The two surgical options include the insertion of a semi-rigid rod or the implantation of a three-piece inflatable prosthesis. Penile prosthesis implantation has low infection, complication, and malfunction rates. However, since placement of an implant requires permanent injury to the erectile tissue of the penis, implant treatment is considered irreversible.
If the patient complains of loss of sensation on his penile shaft or glans, it is useful to perform hot and cold perception testing and/or additional vibratory sensory testing with biothesiometer. These are tests that can be performed quickly during the office visit and provide useful information about the function of the dorsal nerve of the penis (Table 3).
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
If the patient reports a history of trauma to the genitals that preceded his erectile dysfunction, further evaluation with pharmacologic injection and penile color duplex ultrasound (PCDU) would be indicated to assess for arterial insufficiency or venous occlusive dysfunction (19). Prior to PCDU, however, you might give him a trial of oral PDE5 inhibitors. If those medications are effective, you have effectively ruled out significant arterial insufficiency or venous leakage disease as an etiology. Regardless of outcome of PCDU, no surgical intervention would likely be offered to this man who responds well to oral agents.
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.
Having erection trouble from time to time isn't necessarily a cause for concern. If erectile dysfunction is an ongoing issue, however, it can cause stress, affect your self-confidence and contribute to relationship problems. Problems getting or keeping an erection can also be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs treatment and a risk factor for heart disease.
Another risk factor is that men with type 2 diabetes may produce less than normal amounts of testosterone, a condition called hypogonadism. A 2007 study found that one-third of men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels. Those men were also more likely to have ED, though the link may have to do with weight, not diabetes per se. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for hypogonadism.
Infection is a concern after placement of a prosthesis and is a reported complication in 8%-20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If a prosthesis becomes infected (redness, pain, and swelling of the penis and sometimes purulent drainage are signs of infection), the prosthesis must be removed. Depending on the timing and severity of the infection and your surgeon's preference, the area can be irrigated extensively with antibiotic solutions and a new prosthesis placed at the same time or removal of the infected prosthesis and an attempt to place a new prosthesis made at a later time when the infection is totally cleared.
Lifestyle changes: One of the first things a young man can do to potentially improve or eliminate ED is make positive choices that will also have an impact on the rest of his life. Some changes a man can consider include increasing exercise, eating a heart-healthy diet, quitting smoking, and drinking alcohol only in moderation. Where a man has relationship problems, seeking counseling may also be helpful.
The obvious risks are the same that accompany any surgery: infection, pain, bleeding, and scarring. If for some reason the prosthesis or parts become damaged or dislocated, surgical removal may be necessary. With a general success rate of about 90 percent, any of the devices will restore erections, but they will not affect sexual desire, ejaculation, or orgasm.