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.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
A larger national study, the National Health and Social Life Survey, looked at sexual function in men and women.4 This study surveyed 1,410 men aged 18 to 59 and also documented an increase in ED with age. Additionally, the study found a decrease in sexual desire with increasing age. Men in the oldest cohort (50 to 59) were more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared with men 18 to 29. Experience of sexual dysfunction was more likely among men in poor physical and emotional health. The study also concluded that sexual dysfunction is an important public health concern and that emotional issues are likely to contribute to the experience sexual dysfunction.
Somatomotor penile innervation originates in Onuf’s nucleus in the S2-4 spinal segments. These nerves travel to the ischiocavernosus and bulbocavernosus muscles when activated lead to contraction necessary for the rigid-erection phase. Several animal studies show that stimulation of the somatomotor pathways may also be under sympathetic control, and adrenergic stimulation may lead to contraction of these muscles during ejaculation (13,14). Somatomotor spinal reflexes may also be initiated by genital stimulation. For instance, the well-known bulbocavernosus reflex is evidence this reflex exists; however the clinical significance of its absence in the neurological assessment of ED has not been substantiated (15).
Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common conditions affecting middle-aged and older men. Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician will be called upon to manage this condition or to make referrals to urologists, endocrinologists and cardiologists who will assist in the treatment of ED. This article will briefly discuss the diagnosis and management of ED. In addition, emerging concepts in ED management will be discussed, such as the use of testosterone to treat ED, the role of the endothelium in men with ED and treating the partner of the man with ED. Finally, future potential therapies for ED will be discussed.
It is essential to discuss erectile dysfunction with your doctor, so any serious underlying causes can be excluded and treatment options can be discussed. Many men are embarrassed discussing this issue with their doctor, or even their partner. Open communication with your doctor, and in your relationship, is important for effectively managing this common problem.
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
Nerves originating in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia innervate the penis. There are autonomic (parasympathetic and sympathetic), and somatic separate and integrated pathways. The autonomic pathways neurons originate in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia from the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, respectively. They merge to form the cavernous nerves that travel alongside the prostate, enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to affect the neurovascular events required for tumescence and detumescence. The somatic nerves send sensory information from the penile skin, glans, and urethra via the dorsal penile nerve and pudendal nerve to the spinal cord. The somatic nerves also initiate contraction of the ischio- and bulbocavernosus muscles.
If a trial of oral ED therapy and withdrawal of offending medications prove to be ineffective in restoring erectile function, it is appropriate for most primary care practitioners to consider referral to a specialist for additional evaluation and discussion of alternative treatment options. These include intracavernous injection therapy, vacuum constriction devices, intraurethral therapy, and possible surgery.
Normal erectile function depends on the release of NO and endothelial-dependent vasodilation of the penile arteries. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis, first described by Dr Montorsi, offers an explanation why men are more likely to develop ED before a myocardial infacrtion. It is believed that atherosclerosis affects all vascular beds equally but smaller arteries are more likely to become occluded than larger arteries.31 32 The penile arteries are 1–2 mm while the coronary arteries are 3–4 mm. Thus, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis is more likely to occlude blood flow in the penile arteries compared with the coronary arteries. The penile arteries therefore serve as a sensitive indicator for subsequent CVD. This theory is supported by the fact that ED occurs approximately 3 years prior to cardiac symptoms in virtually all patients with chronic coronary syndrome whereas patients with acute coronary syndrome have a much lower prevalence of sexual dysfunction.32
Sexual functioning involves a complex interaction among biologic, sociocultural, and psychological factors, and the complexity of this interaction makes it difficult to ascertain the clinical etiology of sexual dysfunction. Before any diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is made, problems that are explained by a nonsexual mental disorder or other stressors must first be addressed. Thus, in addition to the criteria for erectile disorder, the following must be considered:
Diabetes. Erectile Dysfunction is common in people with diabetes. An estimated 10.9 million adult men in the U.S. have diabetes, and 35 to 50 percent of these men are impotent. The process involves premature and unusually severe hardening of the arteries. Peripheral neuropathy, with involvement of the nerves controlling erections, is commonly seen in people with diabetes.
While pills for ED are convenient, some men sustain stronger erections by injecting medication directly into the penis. Drugs approved for this purpose work by widening the blood vessels, causing the penis to become engorged with blood. Another option is inserting a medicated pellet into the urethra. The pellet can trigger an erection within 10 minutes.
Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
Having learned a great deal more about erectile dysfunction including its risk factors and causes, you should be equipped to assess your own erectile function. If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. If you choose to seek help, give your doctor as much information as you can about your symptoms including their frequency and severity as well as the onset. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.
Obesity and metabolic syndrome can cause changes in blood pressure, body composition, and cholesterol which may lead to ED. Other conditions that may contribute to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Taking certain medications can also increase your risk for ED.
Besides PDE5 inhibitors and among second-line therapies are VCDs which are clear plastic chambers placed over the penis, tightened against the lower abdomen with a mechanism to create a vacuum inside the chamber. This directs blood into the penis. If an adequate erection occurs inside the chamber, the patient slips a small constriction band off the end of the VCD and onto the base of the penis. An erection beyond 30 min is not recommended. These devices can be a bit cumbersome, but are very safe.40
The first line and by far the most common treatment today is with the prescription drug sildenafil citrate, sold under the brand name Viagra. An estimated 20 million prescriptions for the pill have been filled since it was approved by the FDA in March 1998. It is also the most effective treatment with a success rate of more than 60%. The drug boosts levels of a substance called cyclic GMP, which is responsible for widening the blood vessels of the penis. In clinical studies, Viagra produced headaches in 16% of men who took it, and other side effects included flushing, indigestion, and stuffy nose.
Patient can inject medications directly into the corpora cavernosa to help attain and maintain erections. Medications such as papaverine hydrochloride, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1 (alprostadil) can be used alone or in combinations to attain erections. All of these medications are vasodilators and work by increasing blood flow into the penis. Prostaglandin E1 (Caverject, Edex) is easier to obtain; however, it is associated with penile pain in some individuals. The use of combinations of two or three of these medications can decrease the risk of having penile pain.
Penile injection therapy, intracavernous injection, involves the injection of a vasodilator (a chemical that relaxes arteries to increase blood flow) into the penis. Penile injected therapy is recognized as the most effective nonsurgical treatment for erectile dysfunction. However, due to the invasive nature, it is often used in men who have failed or have contraindications to other treatments such as oral therapies.
It is normal for a man to have five to six erections during sleep, especially during rapid eye movement (REM). Their absence may indicate a problem with nerve function or blood supply in the penis. There are two methods for measuring changes in penile rigidity and circumference during nocturnal erection: snap gauge and strain gauge. A significant proportion of men who have no sexual dysfunction nonetheless do not have regular nocturnal erections.
The percentage of men who engage in some form of sexual activity decreases from 73% for men aged 57–64 years to 26% for men aged 75–85 years.3 For some men, this constitutes a problem, but for others it does not. The aetiology for this decline in sexual activity is multifactorial and is in part due to the fact that most of the female partners undergo menopause at 52 years of age with a significant decline in their libido and desire to engage in sexual activity. A study by Lindau and colleagues3 that examined sexuality in older Americans showed that 50% of the men in a probability sample of more than 3000 US adults reported at least one bothersome sexual problem and 33% had at least two such problems.3 This article will review the normal changes that occur with ageing, factors that influence these changes, individual variations and perspectives, and the available treatment options for ED and androgen deficiency.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction or ED, is a very common problem, affecting up to half of 40-70 year old men in Australia.Treatment techniques for impotence have varied through the years, from external steel mechanical attachments, to static electricity attached to the penis and testicles, to simple aphrodisiacs such as oysters. Until as recently as 1970, erectile failure was almost always seen as being due to psychological causes and was usually treated with psychotherapy.Since then, the medical causes contributing to impotence have been recognised and the treatment of impotence has been revolutionised, providing a range of options which are far more acceptable and very much more successful.Treatment options for impotenceTreatment choices for erectile dysfunction include:medicines;self-injection therapy;devices such as vacuum pumps;penile implant surgery;hormone therapy; andcounselling.If you have erectile dysfunction, the treatment your doctor recommends will depend on the severity of symptoms and the underlying cause of your impotence.Your doctor will want to check that any conditions that could be contributing to or causing erectile dysfunction are being treated.Your doctor may also suggest that you make some lifestyle adjustments, such as:increasing the amount of physical activity you get;losing weight if you are overweight;reducing the amount of alcohol you drink;quitting smoking; andnot taking illicit drugs.These lifestyle recommendations can help improve impotence related to several causes and improve your health in general.Medicines for erectile dysfunctionThe first tablet available for erectile dysfunction, sildenafil (brand name Viagra), has been largely responsible for helping to bring the topic of erectile dysfunction out into the open. Similar medications — tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil ( Levitra) — are also available. These medicines all work in a similar way, although there is some difference in how long their effect lasts. Sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil belong to a group of medicines called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors because they block the PDE5 enzyme.How do oral medicines help treat erectile dysfunction?PDE5 inhibitors help in the process of getting and keeping an erection by working on chemicals in the body that are involved in erections. These medicines work by stopping PDE5 from breaking down an erection-producing chemical called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). cGMP helps to relax the smooth muscle cells in the penis's erectile tissue, allowing more blood to flow into the penis to cause an erection. When PDE5 is temporarily blocked by these medicines, it can’t break down the erection producing cGMP, so an erection can be achieved and maintained. PDE5 inhibitors can be used in the treatment of erectile dysfunction that is due to physical or psychological causes.Medications such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra will work only if you are sexually stimulated. They are not aphrodisiacs and won’t increase your sex drive.Side effects of PDE5 inhibitorsSide effects of these medicines can include headaches, flushes, blocked nose, indigestion and dizziness.In rare situations, sildenafil and vardenafil can cause a distortion of vision or change in colour vision.Tadalafil has been associated with back pain.Who can take medicines for impotence?PDE5 inhibitors cannot be taken by all men, so your doctor will need to evaluate your suitability before prescribing either of these medications.Men taking nitrates (often used to treat angina) should never take phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. PDE5 inhibitors should also not be taken with some medicines used to treat high blood pressure.PDE5 inhibitors may also not be suitable for men with certain heart conditions or low blood pressure. Check with your doctor to find out if this type of medication may be suitable for you.Self-injection therapySelf-injection therapy delivers a medicine called alprostadil (brand name Caverject), also known as prostaglandin E-1, to the erectile tissue of the penis. Prostaglandin E-1 occurs naturally in the body and helps increase the blood flow to the penis to cause an erection. Unlike the PDE5 inhibitors, alprostadil will cause an erection whether the penis is stimulated or not.Self-injection therapy is usually recommended if PDE5 inhibitor medicines are not suitable or have not been effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.How to use self-injection therapyAlprostadil is injected into either of the 2 cigar-shaped chambers of the penis known as the corpora cavernosa, which run along the length of the penis, one on either side. Your doctor or urologist (specialist in problems with male reproductive organs and the urinary tract) will give you instructions on how to do this.Alprostadil should produce an erection in 5 to 20 minutes and, generally, the erection will last for 30 to 60 minutes.You should not use alprostadil more than once in a 24-hour period, and you should use it no more than 3 times a week.Don’t try to use more than the recommended dose of alprostadil, as your erection may last longer than is medically safe.Who can use self-injection therapy?You should ask your doctor if alprostadil is suitable for you. Your doctor will also be able to tell you how much alprostadil to use, depending on your condition and whether or not you are taking any other medications, and also how to use alprostadil properly.People with certain illnesses, such as leukaemia and sickle cell anaemia, or who have a penile implant or Peyronie’s disease, where the penis may be scarred and produces erections that are not straight, should not use alprostadil.Men for whom sexual activity is not advised should not use alprostadil.Side effects of injection therapyThe most common side effects of alprostadil include pain in the penis or bruising in the penis at the site of injection. Fibrosis (the development of fibrous tissue) can also develop following injections into the penis.The most serious side effect is priapism (a persistent erection), which is a medical emergency. Your doctor will inform you of what to do if you have an erection that persists for 2 hours or more. It is very important that you follow your doctor’s instructions and inform them that you have experienced this side effect.Vacuum erection devicesVacuum erection devices work by creating a vacuum, which increases blood flow to the penis, producing an erection.The penis is lubricated and placed inside a hollow plastic chamber. Air is pumped out of the chamber, either manually or by a battery powered pump. This creates a vacuum which pulls blood into the penis to cause an erection. This takes about 5 minutes.Once the penis is erect, the man fits a rubber ring around the base of his penis to keep the blood trapped inside the penis when the cylinder is removed. After intercourse, the ring can be removed to return the penis to a limp state.Vacuum erection devices avoid surgery and can be used as often as required. However, they may be difficult to use, and many men and their partners feel they take much of the pleasure and spontaneity away from sexual activities. Vacuum pumps are not suitable for men who have problems with blood clotting, or blood disorders such as leukaemia.Penile implant surgery for impotencePenile implant surgery is not a common procedure but in some cases it may be the most appropriate treatment for erectile dysfunction.The procedure involves placing an implant inside the penis, along its length, so that it can become erect. The implant may be a pair of semi-rigid rods or a pair of inflatable cylinders.The inflatable implants allow the penis to look and feel limp (flaccid) or erect, depending on how much the cylinders are inflated. The cylinders in an inflatable implant are hollow, and the man gets an erection by squeezing a pump located in his scrotum to fill the cylinders with salt water (saline) stored in a reservoir implanted in his lower abdomen. A release valve drains the saline out of the cylinders and back into the reservoir.With the semi-rigid, malleable rod type of implant, the rods run along the length of the penis and can be bent upwards to produce an erect penis, or downwards when an erect penis is not required.Like all surgery, there are some risks, such as infection or bleeding. If you have had surgery and have severe pain, fever, swelling or excessive bleeding, you should contact your doctor as soon as possible.Vascular surgery for erectile dysfunctionIn cases where a man’s anatomy prevents blood flow into or out of the penis, vascular surgery may be an option. This treatment option is rarely recommended, and is usually only successful in younger men.If there is a blockage that prevents blood from flowing into the penis, a doctor may recommend an operation that bypasses the blocked blood vessels, using a length of vein or manufactured tubing, to allow more blood to flow into the penis and help produce an erection.If the problem is that blood leaks back out of the penis, this can be corrected by tying off the major veins that drain the penis, a procedure known as venous ligation.Hormone treatments for impotenceIn a small number of men, blood tests may show abnormally low levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone. In such cases your doctor might prescribe a course of testosterone injections or a testosterone implant. The supplements can help boost sex drive as well as increasing the ability to have erections. Testosterone gel or patches, applied daily to the skin, are another option.Complementary medicines for erectile dysfunctionThere is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of complementary therapies for the treatment of impotence.Always check with your doctor before taking any herbal medicines or supplements for impotence. These formulations may contain ingredients that can interact with other medicines or cause dangerous side effects.Counselling for men with impotenceErectile dysfunction often has physical causes, but sometimes there is a psychological basis for erection problems. Often this is a form of performance anxiety. A man may have had an episode of erectile dysfunction due to some passing cause like fatigue, stress, relationship difficulty or intoxication. This may have led to embarrassment or a feeling of failure. Even if the physical cause does not remain, future attempts to have sex may trigger memories of this embarrassment and acute anxiety that it will happen again. This anxiety itself is capable of causing erectile dysfunction, and so a man may get trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety and erectile dysfunction. In these instances, seeing a GP, counsellor or psychologist can be very helpful.Stress, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, in fact, almost all significant emotional problems, can have a major effect on sexuality. So do many chronic physical illnesses, even if they don't directly affect genital function. Counsellors and psychologists can assist with these and a wide range of other sexual and relationship problems and can also help female partners suffering from sexual problems. They are particularly skilled in helping patients to overcome guilt or anxiety relating to sexual abuse, and in helping couples to sort out relationship difficulties. Simple problems can be dealt with in a few visits, but more complex problems may require several months or even years of therapy.Your doctor may be able to recommend a psychologist or counsellor who specialises in sexual and relationship problems. Last Reviewed: 12 December 2016
The recommended starting dose of vardenafil is 10 mg taken orally approximately one hour before sexual activity. A doctor may adjust the dose higher or lower depending on efficacy and side effects. The maximum recommended dose is 20 mg, and the maximum recommended dosing frequency is no more than once per day. Patients can take vardenafil with or without food. As with sildenafil, for vardenafil to be effective, sexual stimulation must occur.
Research has even found possible links to frequent ejaculation and a lower risk of prostate cancer. In one study of 32,000 men published in 2016 in the journal European Urology, for example, men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month while in their 20s were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who ejaculated four to seven times per month. And men who ejaculated more often in their 40s were 22 percent less likely to get a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Depression and anxiety: Psychological factors may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. These factors include stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, widower syndrome, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear of sexual failure (performance anxiety). It is also worth noting that many medications used for treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders may cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems.
Psychosexual counselling, or sex therapy, is an appropriate recommendation especially for men who are experiencing discord with their partner especially if the conflict is related to the man’s ED. Counselling usually consists of 5–20 sessions with counsellor. It is our recommendation that referral doctors treating men with ED make a referral to a psychotherapist or sex therapist who is certified by AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists) of certified sexuality educator.43
For best results, men with ED take these pills about an hour or two before having sex. The drugs require normal nerve function to the penis. PDE5 inhibitors improve on normal erectile responses helping blood flow into the penis. Use these drugs as directed. About 7 out of 10 men do well and have better erections. Response rates are lower for Diabetics and cancer patients.