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.
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.
It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
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.
This is a 22-year-old man who presents with no medical or surgical history who reports that he has never had a rigid erection in his life. He reports normal libido, penile sensation, orgasm, and ejaculation. The remainder of his history is negative. His physical examination is normal with normal genital exam and secondary sexual characteristics. He reported no significant change in erection with PDE5 inhibitors.
Additional information to obtain includes a psychosocial and cultural history to assess past and present relationships, emotional or professional stressors, current and previous psychological/behavioral diagnoses and treatments, educational level and employment status, and location of domicile. A methodical medical history should be obtained to identify medical conditions that might be contributing to the patient’s ED. A thorough physical examination should be performed on all new patients with emphasis on the cardiovascular, genital, endocrine, and neurologic systems. On physical examination in a man with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle, the penis may initially be contracted and tender to palpation. As the exam proceeds and the patient becomes less anxious, the penile tissue will often noticeably relax.
We can partially speak to this issue by looking at data from the first wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative US sex survey conducted in 2009 with thousands of Americans aged 14-94 [3]. As part of this study, male participants were asked whether they’d experienced any erectile difficulties the last time they had sex via a single item with five response options, ranging from “not difficult” to “very difficult.” Obviously, this is a quite different question compared to the other studies because it only focused on a single event (the most recent one in memory) and it was more complex than a simple yes/no answer. The researchers also divided men into slightly different age groups.
Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to ED. In a small study, 31 men newly diagnosed with ED either took tadalafil (Cialis) only, or took tadalafil while also following an eight-week stress management program. At the end of the study, the group who participated in the stress management program saw more improvement in erectile function than the group who took only tadalafil.
Excessive drinking is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol decreases the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation. As a depressant, alcohol directly affects the penis by interfering with parts of the nervous system that are essential for sexual arousal and orgasm, including respiration, circulation, and sensitivity of nerve endings, according to Health Promotion at Brown University.
Most men may not openly talk about their erection problems, but erectile dysfunction — when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection well enough or long enough to have satisfying sex — is very common. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 percent of 40-year-olds and 15 to 25 percent of 65-years old have ED. But while ED is more likely to occur as a man gets older, it doesn’t come automatically with age.
Tadalafil shares the common side effects of the PDE5 inhibitors, however, due to its effect on PDE11, another phosphodiesterase located in muscle, tadalafil has been associated with muscle aches. Back pain and muscle aches occur in less than 7% of men taking tadalafil and in most patients will go away without treatment within 48 hours. When treatment was necessary, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) were effective. Rarely do the muscle aches and back pain cause men to stop using tadalafil.
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.

Side effects of sildenafil are similar to those from taking niacin or any vasodilator, namely, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, and flushing. Some individuals experience a bluish tinge of their cornea, which makes them feel as if they are wearing light blue–tinted sunglasses. This effect can last for several hours. Syncope and myocardial infarction, the most serious side effects, are seen in men who are also taking nitrates for coronary heart disease. Sildenafil also has adverse effects in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy because a decrease in preload and after load in the cardiac output can increase the outflow obstruction, culminating in an unstable hemodynamic state.
Some men should not take PDE5 inhibitors. They can cause hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure that can lead to fainting and even shock) when given to patients who are taking nitrates (medications taken for heart disease). Therefore, patients taking nitrates daily should not take any of the PDE5 inhibitors. Nitrates relieve angina (chest pain due to insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle because of narrowing of the coronary arteries); these include nitroglycerine tablets, patches, ointments, sprays, and pastes, as well as isosorbide dinitrate and isosorbide mononitrate. Other nitrates such as amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate also are in some recreational drugs called "poppers."
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
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:

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:
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
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.
Similar to the general population (58), in subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, T deficiency is progressively more prevalent as a function of age (50). In a series of 4,890 subjects consulting our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit for sexual dysfunction, one in five (19.6%) and one in three (29.4%) patients have total T below 10.4 and 12 nmol/L, respectively (60). Clinical correlates of T deficiency show different figures according to patient’s age. In fact, we previously demonstrated that in the youngest quartile (17–42 years old), but not in the oldest one (62–88 years old), severity of reported ED and penile blood flow impairment (dynamic peak systolic velocity) were not associated to decreasing testosterone levels (50). It is possible to speculate that, in young individuals, intercourse-related penile erection is such a complex phenomenon that other determinants (i.e., intrapsychic or relational) might mask its androgen regulation and that T deficiency produces greater sexual disturbances in subjects with greater frailty, such as older individuals. However, reported frequency of spontaneous erection and sexual thoughts were significantly decreased as a function of T decline even in younger subjects (50). Moreover, in young individuals low T was associated with a worse metabolic profile, including hypertriglyceridemia and increased waist circumference (50). Accordingly, the prevalence of MetS in the youngest quartile was clearly associated with T deficiency, as it was in the older quartiles (50). Therefore, T deficiency must be accurately verified in all subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, even in the youngest ones.
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).

The contents of your medicine cabinet could affect your performance in the bedroom. A long list of common drugs can cause ED, including certain blood pressure drugs, pain medications, and antidepressants. But do not stop taking any medicines without talking to your doctor first. Street drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana can cause sexual problems in men, too.


In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.
Alcohol is a depressant, not an aphrodisiac or a libido enhancer. Excessive consumption can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection at any age, and even occasional drinking can make erectile dysfunction worse in older men. Feloney advises using alcohol in moderation: "In small amounts, alcohol can relieve anxiety and may help with erectile dysfunction, but if you drink too much, it can cause erectile dysfunction or make the problem worse."
The vacuum constriction device consists of a vacuum cylinder, various sizes of tension rings, and a vacuum pump, either hand-operated or electric. The penis is placed in a cylinder to which a tension ring is attached. Air is evacuated from the cylinder by means of the pump, creating a vacuum, which produces the erection. The cylinder is removed, leaving the tension ring at the base of the penis to maintain the erection.
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