Parasympathetic pathways originate from the intermediolateral cell columns of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sacral spinal cord segments. Preganglionic fibers pass through the pelvic plexus where they coalesce with sympathetic fibers from the superior hypogastric plexus. The cavernous nerves that innervate the penis arise from the portion of the pelvic plexus. The pelvic plexus also contains nerves that innervate the rectum, bladder and urinary sphincter and the nerve projections can be damaged during radical excision of the bladder, prostate and rectum, leading to iatrogenic ED (4).
• Blood Vessels: Diabetes damages blood vessels, especially the smallest blood vessels such as those in the penis. Diabetes can also cause heart disease and other circulatory problems. Proper blood flow is absolutely crucial to achieving erection. “Erection is a hydraulic phenomenon that occurs involuntarily,” says Arturo Rolla, MD, of Harvard University School of Medicine. “Nobody can will an erection!” Anything that limits or impairs blood flow can interfere with the ability to achieve an erection, no matter how strong one’s sexual desire.
The Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) documented an inverse correlation between ED risk and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels but did not identify any effect from elevated total cholesterol levels. [15] Another study involving male subjects aged 45-54 years found a correlation with abnormal HDL cholesterol levels but also found a correlation with elevated total cholesterol levels. The MMAS included a preponderance of older men.

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.

Alprostadil is a potent vasodilator and smooth muscle relaxant identical to the naturally occurring PGE1. PGE1 binds with specific receptors on smooth muscle cells and activates intracellular adenylate cyclase to produce cAMP, which in turn induces tissue relaxation through a second messenger system (96). PGE1 is the only FDA approved form of intracavernosal therapy and is available commercailly as EDEX, or Caverject. Its efficacy was demonstrated in several clinical trials where the rate of responders ranged from 40% to 80% (97,98). The most common adverse event is penile pain, which is not related to the injection of the medication itself. In men with prolonged use the pain is usually self-limited (99).
Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Surgery: If neither drugs nor the vacuum pump works, your doctor may suggest surgery. With surgery, the doctor can place a device in your penis that will cause enough hardness for intercourse. In a few cases, infections may develop after the operation, and the doctor may have to remove the device. Another operation that may help you is rebuilding the blood vessels in the penis to increase blood flow into the penis or decrease blood flow out of the penis. These procedures can help you to get and maintain an erection.

The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.


Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.

Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20


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.
Erectile dysfunction may be the result of arterial and non-arteritic causes. Hardening of the arteries that bring blood into the penis, atherosclerosis, is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, particularly in men with cardiovascular disease. However, problems with the nerves that supply the penis as well as the veins that drain blood out of the penis can also cause troubles with erection. Erectile dysfunction may also have a psychological cause.
This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.

If you’re experiencing psychological ED, you may benefit from talk therapy. Therapy can help you manage your mental health. You’ll likely work with your therapist over several sessions, and your therapist will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.
The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.

All studies demonstrate a strong association with age, even when data are adjusted for the confounding effects of other risk factors. The independent association with aging suggests that vascular changes in the arteries and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa, similar to those found elsewhere in the body, are contributing factors. Other risk factors associated with aging include depression, sleep apnea, and low HDL levels.


Alprostadil is an FDA-approved erectile dysfunction drug that can be injected directly into the penis to trigger an automatic erection. "Penile injection is the most effective type of ED treatment for men who can't take oral treatment," says Nelson Bennett, MD, a urologist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. In fact, it has an 85 percent success rate. Possible side effects include a burning sensation and priapism, an erection that lasts more than four hours and requires medical treatment.

Can’t or don’t want to take ED drugs? The vacuum pump method is the next most common choice among men with erectile dysfunction who pass on pills, says Dr. Bennett. To create an erection, you place a plastic cylinder over the penis and pump the air out of the cylinder to force blood to flow into the penis. An elastic ring that you slide onto the base of your penis holds the erection. This ED treatment device is effective for about 75 percent of men. Side effects include numbness, bruising, and weak ejaculation — and the ring must be removed after 30 minutes.
Since endothelial dysfunction, CVD and ED are closely associated in epidemiological studies, the question for clinicians is whether to recommend the man presenting with ED undergo a cardiovascular (CV) evaluation. Clearly, based on numerous studies, ED can be considered at least a ‘marker’ for possible further vascular disease or CVD.15 In their report, Vlachopoulos and coworkers make the point that the man presenting with ED, the clinician, is offered an opportunity to attempt to improve the health of the man by addressing lifestyle modification, and consider further vascular evaluation owing to the clear relationship between endothelial dysfunction, ED and CVD.19
Drugs.com provides accurate and independent information on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Data sources include IBM Watson Micromedex (updated Jan 9th, 2019), Cerner Multum™ (updated Jan 14th, 2019), Wolters Kluwer™ (updated Jan 7th, 2019) and others. To view content sources and attributions, please refer to our editorial policy.
Modern drug therapy for ED made a significant advance in 1983, when British physiologist Giles Brindley dropped his trousers and demonstrated to a shocked Urodynamics Society audience his papaverine-induced erection.[35] The drug Brindley injected into his penis was a non-specific vasodilator, an alpha-blocking agent, and the mechanism of action was clearly corporal smooth muscle relaxation. The effect that Brindley discovered established the fundamentals for the later development of specific, safe, and orally effective drug therapies.[36][better source needed][37][better source needed]
When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.
You can also consider using a cock ring or penis ring if you are able to get an erection but have trouble maintaining it.  Cock rings work by trapping the blood inside your penis so it remains harder for longer.  You can purchase one in a sex store or online for about $5 and you put in on over your penis and testicles when you are half hard and keep it on until you are finished with sex.  It’s a great cheap fix for erectile issues.
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.
According to a review of all randomized controlled trials evaluating sildenafil by the American Urological Association (AUA) Consensus Panel on Erectile Dysfunction, 36% to 76% of patients receiving the drug were "able to achieve intercourse" during treatment. For tadalafil, four randomized controlled trials revealed that 11% to 47% of patients were "able to achieve intercourse." Similar efficacy has been observed with vardenafil, although studies are fewer.19 A meta-analysis published in 2013 clearly demonstrated increased efficacy over placebo for all PDE5 inhibitors.24 Head-to-head comparison suggested that tadalafil outperforms sildenafil on validated measures of erectile dysfunction, including the international index of erectile function and sexual encounter profile-2 and -3.
The Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial was a landmark study by Thompson et al that prospectively assessed the time to developing CVD after the diagnosis of ED. There were 4247 men with no ED at study entry; 2420 developed incident ED (defined as the first report of ED of any grade) over 5 years. Those men that developed ED had a 1.45-fold higher probability of experiencing a CV event compared with men who did not develop ED.27
"The good news is, our study also found that a large proportion of men were naturally overcoming erectile dysfunction issues. The remission rate of those with erectile dysfunction was 29%, which is very high. This shows that many of these factors affecting men are modifiable, offering them an opportunity to do something about their condition," Professor Wittert says.

While studies are limited, it has been shown that male sexual dysfunction can also negatively impact the sexual function of female partners. A study comparing the sexual function of women with partners with erectile dysfunction to those without showed that sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, pain and total score were significantly lower in those who had partners with erectile dysfunction. Later in that study, a large proportion of the men with erectile dysfunction underwent treatment. Following treatment, sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain were all significantly increased. It was concluded that female sexual function is impacted by male erection status, which may improve following treatment of male sexual dysfunction.
Centrally active compounds such as apomorphine have been used in men with ED whose cardiovascular comorbidity may prohibit PDE5i use, or in men who have concurrent apomorphine use for its anti-parkinsonian properties. Unfortunately, its side effect profile and poor effectiveness compared to other ED treatments have impaired its mainstream utilization (118). It is suspected that the side effects of apomorphine relate to its D2 receptor affinity. D4 receptor agonists, such as ABT-724 and azulenylmethylpiperazines, may not have the same associated side effects and show potent pro-erectile effects in animal models compared to apomorphine (32,119).
Iatrogenic hypotension can occur in men in neurodegenerative disease using sildenafil (49). Hussain et al. placed men with PD and MSA on sildenafil and recorded blood pressure before and after. Half of the 12 MSA patients developed postural hypotension, while none of the twelve PD patients did. Since MSA can be difficult to distinguished diagnostically from PD, baseline blood pressure measurements prior to prescribing the medication and seeking medical assistance if symptomatic hypotension occurred was recommended for all patients with PD, and MSA. Of note, none of the men with MSA who developed hypotension discontinued sildenafil use due to its effectiveness at improving their erections.
4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Erectile dysfunction (updated Nov 2015). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/urologic-disease/erectile-dysfunction/Pages/facts.aspx (accessed Nov 2016). myDr myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.Related ArticlesImpotence causesFind out the physical and psychological causes of impotence, also called erectile dysfunction or ED.Erectile dysfunction: visiting your doctorFind out what questions a doctor may ask when discussing erectile dysfunction (ED, or impotence8 Surprising causes of erectile dysfunctionOccasional erectile dysfunction is not uncommon, but if it's persistent, erectile dysfunction caAdvertisement
A physical exam checks your total health. Examination focusing on your genitals (penis and testicles) is often done to check for ED. Based on your age and risk factors, the exam may also focus on your heart and blood system: heart, peripheral pulses and blood pressure. Based on your age and family history your doctor may do a rectal exam to check the prostate. These tests are not painful. Most patients do not need a lot of testing before starting treatment.
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