The pills currently available by prescription all work the same way—by boosting the effects of NO in the penis. They typically have mild side effects. Some work faster but others last longer. There is no “best” drug, as some will work better for some men than others, but they all are about equally effective at increasing the hardness of an erection. Pills don’t work for everyone. The main risk is using them with nitroglycerine which can be fatal and must absolutely be avoided.
Diabetes can cause nerve, blood vessel, and muscle damage that results in problems like pain, numbing or loss of sensation in the hands and feet.12 These issues can also result in ED problems, because nerve signals and blood flow are necessary to the process of getting an erection.6 And as men with diabetes get older, ED problems become even more common.13
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
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.
Dr. Niket Sonpal is the Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Associate Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. He's a practicing Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with a focus on Men's and Women's Health, and a regular contributor to Women's health, Shape and Prevention Magazine.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
The two main physical treatments are vacuum pumps and constriction rings. A vacuum pump is a cylinder which is placed over the penis. The air is then pumped out of it, gently ‘forcing’ the penis to become erect. Constriction rings are used to maintain an erection. A ring is placed around the base of the penis, trapping blood and keeping it hard for longer.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
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.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.