Under normal circumstances, when a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends a message down the spinal cord and into the nerves of the penis. The nerve endings in the penis release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that signal the corpora cavernosa (the two spongy rods of tissue that span the length of the penis) to relax and fill with blood. As they expand, the corpora cavernosa close off other veins that would normally drain blood from the penis. As the penis becomes engorged with blood, it enlarges and stiffens, causing an erection. Problems with blood vessels, nerves, or tissues of the penis can interfere with an erection.
In a prospective study from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial database, Thompson et al reported that men presenting with ED had a significantly higher chance of developing a cardiovascular event over a 7-year follow-up period.  The hazard ratio was 1.45, which is in the range of risk associated with current smoking or a family history of MI.
Lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation can contribute to ED. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis particularly vulnerable to ED. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to ED. Studies indicate that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of ED.
Effective treatment for erectile dysfunction is available, and for most men will allow the return to a fulfilling sex life. The side effects of the treatment for erectile dysfunction vary depending on the treatment that is used. Some may interrupt the spontaneity of sexual activity. For example, PDE-5 inhibitors typically need to be taken one hour before sex. Side effects may include headaches, indigestion, vasodilation, diarrhoea and blue tinge to vision. Other treatments such as penile injections may cause pain at the injection site, or an erection that will not go down. Treatment options need to be carefully discussed with your doctor to determine which one is best suited to you.
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.
There are relatively few contraindications to the use of vacuum devices. Some conditions can predispose to priapism or perhaps bleeding with constriction, such as sickle cell disease, polycythemia, and other blood dyscrasias. Patients taking anticoagulants can safely use vacuum constriction devices but need to accept a higher risk of bleeding (ecchymosis). Good manual dexterity is also needed to use the device; if manual dexterity is impaired, a willing sexual partner can learn to apply the device.
Before pursuing ED treatments, though, bear in mind that improving heart health by losing weight, eating a healthier diet, exercising more and quitting smoking typically enhances erectile performance as well as one’s overall health. In addition, sex therapy counseling sessions can often ease or eradicate ED symptoms, if the underlying cause is psychological in nature, says Drogo Montague, M.D., director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction at the Cleveland Clinic.
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.
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.
Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date.  Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.
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.
There are many different treatment options for erectile dysfunction but your individual diagnosis will determine which treatment option is right for you. It is important to realize that not all treatment options will work for everyone. A doctor who has specialized in men’s sexual health (typically a urologist) will be the most qualified to discuss all of your treatment options with you. Many specialists will often encourage you to schedule additional follow up appointments to review how your treatment is working for you or if a different option may be more beneficial.
Recently, several advances in the uses of stem cells have bet met with great anticipation. Stem cells have the ability to differentiate into different cell lines based on the cellular signaling they receive. Bone marrow mononuclear cells in particular have been used for the treatment of ED in animal models. Yiou et al. recently delivered bone marrow-mononuclear cells (BM-MNC) into the intracavernous smooth muscle of post radical prostatectomy men (123). The open label, dose escalation phase I/II trial showed improvements in IIEF-15 assessment as well as increased vascularization of the corpora based on penile Doppler arterial velocity measurements. Although promising, further investigation in humans is required to substantiate BM-MNCs impact on erections, and erectile function recovery going forward.
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ED is often the result of atherosclerosis, and as a result, men with ED frequently have cardiovascular disease. Sexual activity is associated with increased physical exertion, which in some men may increase the risk of having a heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI). The major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease are age, hypertension, diabetes mellitus, obesity, smoking, abnormal lipid/cholesterol levels in the blood, and lack of exercise. Individuals with three or more of these risk factors are at increased risk for a heart attack during sexual activity. The Princeton Consensus Panel developed guidelines for treating ED in men with cardiovascular disease. Thus, if you have ED and cardiovascular disease (for example, angina or prior heart attack), you should discuss whether or not treatment of ED and sexual activity are appropriate for you.
ED exists in approximately 75% of men with SB and is dependent upon the level of the neurologic lesion (54). The level of the neurologic lesions usually corresponds to sensation and penile sensation indicates pudendal nerve signaling. With absent sacral reflexes ED is variable. Furthermore, Diamond et al. reported that 64% of men with lesions below T10 obtained erections versus 14% with a lesion above T10 (55). It has also been suggested that ED may be underreported due to lack of sexual education even in men without associated cognitive impairment (56).
You should talk to your doctor about possible treatments. You may want to talk to other patients who have had the treatment planned for you. You also may want to seek a second doctor's opinion about surgery before making your decision. You may find it difficult to talk to your doctor about impotence. You will want to find a doctor who treats this condition and will help you feel comfortable talking about the problem and choosing the best treatment. You can also get more information by contacting your local National Kidney Foundation affiliate.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.