An erection involves the brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and circulatory system. These systems work together to fill the erectile tissue in the penis with blood. A man with erectile dysfunction (ED) has trouble getting or maintaining an erection for sexual intercourse. Some men with ED are completely unable to get an erection. Others have trouble maintaining an erection for more than a short time.

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.
To understand what happens in ED, it's helpful to know some anatomical basics. When aroused by either sensory or mental stimuli, the brain sends a signal through the nerves to the penis, causing the muscles there to relax. This opens up space for blood to flow in and engorge the penis. A membrane within the penis traps blood inside to help maintain the erection, which subsides when the penile muscles contract, forcing blood back into the rest of the body. Any number of things can go wrong in this process, leading to erectile dysfunction.
Then you have to be able to make the right diagnosis. What is the basis for their erectile dysfunction? Is it psychogenic? Is it some sort of neurological or blood vessel or hormonal issue? So you have to make a diagnosis. You have to be able to make an assessment. And then only after those things are done, then you start to think about medications.
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
These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.
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.
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It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more. While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.
When sexually stimulated there is a release of a chemical, nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the corpus cavernosum. The NO stimulates the production of a compound called cGMP, which causes relaxation of the smooth muscle in the blood vessels supplying the corpus cavernosum. PDE 5 is an enzyme that breaks down cGMP. By inhibiting the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5, these medications allow cGMP to build up in the penis. cGMP causes muscles in the corpora cavernosa of the penis to relax. When the muscle is relaxed, more blood can flow into the penis and fill the spaces in the penis. As the penis fills with blood, the veins in the penis are compressed, and this results a hard erection. When the effect on PDE5 decreases, the cGMP levels go down and the muscle in the penis contracts, causing less blood to flow into the penis and allowing the veins to open up and drain blood out of the penis.
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).
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.

Drinking in moderation can be beneficial to your heart health, and therefore your sex life. A 2004 study published in the journal Seminars in Vascular Medicine found moderate alcohol consumption was associated with decreased cardiovascular mortality due to the antioxidant capacities of alcoholic beverages. The polyphenolic compounds — a group of compounds that include tannins and anthocyanins — were shown to change the lipid profiles, decrease coagulation, increase fibrinolysis, inhibition of platelets, and increase nitric oxide. This is vital since vascular diseases (those that affect the blood vessels) commonly cause erectile dysfunction.


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).
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.”

You may find that using a vacuum device requires some practice or adjustment. Using the device may make your penis feel cold or numb and have a purple color. You also may have bruising on your penis. However, the bruises are most often painless and disappear in a few days. Vacuum devices may weaken ejaculation but, in most cases, the devices do not affect the pleasure of climax, or orgasm.


The number of symptoms reported appeared to be a function of the amount of alcoholic beverage consumed. The chance of developing sexual dysfunctions appears to increase with increasing quantity of alcohol consumed. Higher levels of alcohol intake may result in greater neurotoxic effects. It has been reported that heavy alcohol use may contribute to a reversible vagal neuropathy, which is perhaps reversible on abstinence.[17] However, chronic heavy use of alcohol is also known to significantly alter gonadal hormones.[9]
Alprostadil should not be used in men with urethral stricture (scarring and narrowing of the tube that urine and the ejaculate pass through), balanitis (inflammation/infection of the glans [tip] of the penis, severe hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, rather on the underside of the penis), penile curvature (abnormal bend to the penis), and urethritis (inflammation/infection of the urethra).
Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to achieve or sustain a hard enough erection for satisfactory completion of sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction is different from other health conditions that interfere with male sexual function, such as lack of sexual desire (decreased libido) and problems with ejaculation release of the fluid from the penis (ejaculatory dysfunction) and orgasm/climax (orgasmic dysfunction), and penile curvature (Peyronie's disease), although these problems may also be present. ED affects about 50% of men age 40 and over. This article focuses on the evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction.

In the popular media, it’s easy to find claims of a rising “epidemic” of erectile dysfunction in young men. For example, this article argues that the rate of ED in young men has increased 1000% in the last decade alone—though, problematically, no research is cited to back it up, which makes this a very questionable claim. So what does the science say on this subject? Are erectile difficulties really rising at a dramatic rate in young guys? Let’s take a look.
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.

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.
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.
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).
Does drinking water improve erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction or ED is a common concern for men. Everyday factors, such as hydration levels, may affect a person's ability to get or maintain an erection. Drinking water may, therefore, help some men with ED. In this article, learn about the link between hydration and ED, and other factors that can cause ED. Read now
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