Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction or ED, is a condition in which a man is unable to get or hold an erection long enough to have a satisfactory sex life. Impotence is a common problem, affecting up to half of Australian men between the ages of 40 and 70 years. The risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases as you get older.In the past, doctors considered impotence to be a mainly psychological problem, caused by performance anxiety or stress. Now, doctors know that many cases of impotence have a physical cause, which usually can be treated. Often, a combination of physical and psychological factors contributes to erectile dysfunction.Physical causes of impotencePhysical causes of impotence can include:problems with blood to flow into and out of the penis;damage to the nerves that send signals from the body’s central nervous system to the penis; and, more rarely,a deficiency in testosterone or other hormones.Some medicines can contribute to impotence, as can some types of surgery and radiotherapy treatments.Blocked blood vessels to the penisA very common cause of impotence is when blood flow into the penis is reduced. This can be due to atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. In atherosclerosis, the arteries are clogged and narrowed, resulting in reduced blood flow.Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:high cholesterol;high blood pressure;obesity;sleep apnoea;diabetes; andsmoking.If your erection problems are caused by atherosclerosis, there is a chance that the arteries in other parts of your body (e.g. the coronary arteries that supply your heart) are also affected by atherosclerosis. In fact, erection problems may be the first sign that you are at risk of coronary heart disease.Because the arteries to the penis are narrower than those to the heart, you may develop symptoms of erectile dysfunction before you experience any symptoms of heart disease, such as angina. So seeing your doctor about erection problems may be important for your overall physical health.Impotence can also be caused by a blood clot that prevents enough blood from flowing into the penis to cause an erection.Venous leakageIn some men, blood can flow in to the penis easily, but the problem is that it leaks out again, so an erection cannot be sustained. This is called venous leakage. Doctors aren’t certain of the cause of venous leakage, but they can perform surgery to help repair it.Medicines that can cause impotenceMany medicines can cause erection problems as a side effect, including:diuretics (sometimes known as ‘water tablets’ - often used for high blood pressure);high blood pressure medications;cholesterol-lowering medicines (including statins);some types of antipsychotics;antidepressants;cancer treatments;some medicines used to treat heartburn and stomach ulcers;antihistamines;some pain medicines; andcertain epilepsy medications.If you experience impotence after starting a new medication, tell your doctor, who may be able to prescribe a different medicine for you. Don’t stop taking a medicine without first consulting your doctor. You should also tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines or complementary remedies you may be taking.The following table contains a list of specific medicines that may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction. This list may not cover all types of medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction, so always ask your doctor if you are in doubt. Also, for some of these medicines ED is a very rare side effect. Most men taking these medicines do not experience erectile dysfunction.Medicines that may cause erectile dysfunctionType of medicineExamplesACE inhibitorscaptopril (Capoten), enalapril (Renitec), perindopril (Perindo), ramipril (Tritace), and othersAntidepressantsamitriptyline (Endep), clomipramine (Anafranil), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Aropax), sertraline (Zoloft), venlafaxine (Altven, Efexor), and othersAnti-epilepticsclonazepam (Rivotril), pregabalin (Lyrica)Antifungalsitraconazole (Sporanox)Anti-ulcer drugscimetidine (Magicul), nizatidine (Tazac), ranitidine (Zantac), and othersBeta-blockerspropranolol (Inderal), metoprolol (Betaloc, Lopresor), and othersOther blood pressure-lowering medicinesclonidine (Catapres), lercanidipine/enalapril (Zan-Extra), losartan (Cozaar), perindopril/amlodipine (Coveram), olmesartan/amlodipine (Sevikar), telmisartan/amlodipine (Twynsta), valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide (Co-Diovan)Calcium-channel blockersdiltiazem (Cardizem), felodipine (Plendil), nifedipine (Adalat)Cholesterol-lowering drugsatorvastatin (Lipitor), ezetimibe/simvastatin (Vytorin), fluvastatin (Lescol, Vastin), gemfibrozil (Ausgem), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (APO-simvastatin, Lipex, Zocor), and othersDiuretics ('water tablets')bumetanide (Burinex), chlorthalidone (Hygroton), spironolactone (Aldactone), and othersSchizophrenia drugsamisulpride (Solian, Sulprix), haloperidol (Haldol, Serenace), olanzapine (Lanzek, Ozin, Zypine, Zyprexa), paliperidone (Invega), risperidone (Rispa, Risperdal), ziprasidone (Zeldox)Combination cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensiveamlodipine/atorvastatin (Caduet, Cadatin)Pain medicinesfentanyl (Denpax, Durogesic), hydromorphone (Jurnista), morphine (Momex SR, MS Contin), oxycodone (OxyContin, OxyNorm, Targin), tramadolMiscellaneousoestrogens, antiandrogens, anticancer drugs and some chemotherapy treatments, baclofen (Clofen, Lioresal); cyproterone (Androcur, Cyprohexal, Cyprostat), degarelix (Firmagon), etoricoxib (Arcoxia), finasteride (Proscar and Propecia), flutamide (Flutamin), rotigotine (Neupro), triptorelin (Diphereline)*The names in brackets are just some examples of the trade names each specific medicine is marketed under in Australia. The medicine may also be known by other trade names.Diabetes and erectile dysfunctionMen who have diabetes have a higher risk of developing impotence than other men. Diabetes contributes to impotence because it can damage blood vessels and cause a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy.Hormones and impotenceLow levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are more commonly linked to a lowered sex drive, rather than impotence itself. Only a small percentage of cases of impotence are caused by hormone deficiency.Low testosterone levels may be the result of a condition called hypogonadism, in which the testicles don’t produce enough testosterone. More rarely, low testosterone can be caused by the pituitary (a small gland at the base of the brain) not secreting sufficient hormones to stimulate the testes to produce testosterone. The pituitary is also sometimes affected by small benign (non-cancerous) tumours that secrete prolactin, another hormone that can cause impotence.Mildly decreased levels of testosterone are often not due to specific testicular or pituitary problems, but rather stress or depression. In this situation, testosterone replacement is rarely of any benefit.Other hormone problems, including thyroid disease, can also cause impotence.Prostate cancer and erectile dysfunctionThe advanced stages of prostate cancer can affect the nerves and arteries that are vital for an erection.Radiation treatment for prostate cancer can harm the erectile tissues of the penis, and prostate cancer surgery can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis.Treatment for advanced prostate cancer often includes medicines that counteract testosterone, and commonly cause erectile dysfunction as well as loss of sexual interest.Peyronie’s diseasePeyronie’s disease is an uncommon condition that affects a man’s sex life because his penis curves abnormally and causes pain when he has an erection. He might also be unable to have a hard erection. The curvature of the penis is caused by a scar, called a plaque, that forms in the penis.Other physical causes of impotenceSeveral other factors and conditions can contribute to erectile dysfunction, including the following.Depression. Many men find that when they’re suffering from depression, they lose interest in sex and can’t get or keep an erection. Asking your doctor for treatments for depression may help alleviate your erection problems as well.Smoking contributes to vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels), so it can contribute to erectile dysfunction by affecting blood flow to the penis. Giving up smoking often has a beneficial effect on erectile function.Excessive alcohol use. Alcoholism can cause permanent nerve damage, resulting in impotence. This nerve damage is called peripheral neuropathy. Long-term alcohol use can impair the liver’s ability to function, resulting in a hormone imbalance in which a man has too much of the female sex hormone, oestrogen. On a day-to-day level, alcohol dulls the central nervous system, adversely affecting sexual response.Illicit drug use. Illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and amphetamines act on the central nervous system, impairing the body’s ability to respond sexually.Certain exercises. Nerve and artery damage can be caused by prolonged cycling, rodeo riding, or use of a rowing machine, resulting in the inability to get an erection. Often, minimising the use of hard bicycle seats and exercise machine seats, as well as correct positioning of the seat, will help restore sexual function.Surgery to organs near the nerve pathways of the penis, such as the bladder, rectum and prostate, can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis, resulting in the inability to have an erection.Injuries. Impotence can be caused by spinal cord injury; injury to your sex organs; or a pelvic fracture, which can cause damage to the nerves of the penis, or damage the blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood flow to the penis.Conditions affecting the nervous system. Multiple sclerosis (MS) and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, can damage the nerves involved in erections.Psychological causes of impotenceMost cases of impotence have physical causes, but, in some men, psychological factors are the main contributors to impotence.Impotence that’s triggered by psychological factors is more common in men who are sexually inexperienced. Psychological erectile dysfunction may only occur when you’re with just one particular person. You’re also more likely to have morning erections, and be able to have an erection when you masturbate, than men whose impotence has a physical cause.Here are some psychological factors that can have an impact on your erections.Stress and anxietyWhen you’re stressed and focusing on other issues apart from sex, you might find that you don’t want to have sex as often and there might be a drop in your ability to perform when you do try. You might find that tackling the source of your stress can have benefits in the bedroom as well.Fear of failureAnxiety about your sexual prowess (commonly called performance anxiety) can, in itself, contribute to failure. By putting pressure on yourself, you become too anxious to get an adequate erection.Most men experience isolated episodes of erectile failure. Even when the transient physical cause has passed, anxiety that it may recur is sufficient to prevent erection. Anxiety, whether about something specifically sexual or part of a wider anxiety syndrome, is never helpful to good sexual function.Problems with your relationship and impotenceImpotence may be a manifestation of a poor relationship, or a problematic time in a relationship. Sexual boredom, tension or anger among partners, and lack of intimacy and communication are all possible triggers of erectile dysfunction. In these cases, seeing a counsellor may help.It’s worth remembering that impotence is a complex medical condition, which may have more than one cause. For example, if impotence is the result of a side effect of medicine or an underlying disease, the anxiety caused by lack of performance may perpetuate the erectile dysfunction even after the physical cause has been dealt with.Almost any chronic (ongoing) physical or mental health disorder, including those with no direct effect on penile nerves or blood supply, can have a powerful effect on sexuality, sexual self-image and erectile function.If you’re worried about your sexual response or the quality of your erections, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, who has access to treatments that can help. Last Reviewed: 16 December 2016
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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.
If it is determined that ED is a problem, the patient evaluation should include a detailed sexual and medical history and a physical exam. In particular, it is important to evaluate the ED within the context of ejaculatory problems. There is a strong interplay between premature ejaculation (PE) and ED, with about a third of ED patients reporting PE. The relationship between the PE and ED is bidirectional and successful treatment of one often requires treatment of the other.14
Robbins, C. L., Schick, V., Reece. M., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S. A. Dodge, B., & Fortenberry J. D., (2011, December 1). Prevalence, frequency, and associations of masturbation with partnered sexual behaviors among US adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 165(12), 1087–1093. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1107656
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
Vascular damage may result from radiation therapy to the pelvis and prostate in the treatment of prostate cancer.  Both the blood vessels and the nerves to the penis may be affected. Radiation damage to the crura of the penis, which are highly susceptible to radiation damage, can induce ED. Data indicate that 50% of men undergoing radiation therapy lose erectile function within 5 years after completing therapy; fortunately, some respond to one of the PDE5 inhibitors.
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).
Psychological factors — Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of impotence. Doctors now know that physical factors cause impotence in most men with the problem. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse.
"Sexual relations are not only an important part of people's wellbeing. From a clinical point of view, the inability of some men to perform sexually can also be linked to a range of other health problems, many of which can be debilitating or potentially fatal," says Professor Gary Wittert, Head of the Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide and Director of the University's Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
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).
PDE5i use in PD has not been well studied; however its benefits have been shown. Raffaele performed an open label, prospective study evaluating the efficacy of sildenafil 50 mg on demand and depressive symptoms experienced by the PD patient (73). Erections were improved in approximately 85% of men and 75% noted improvements in their depressive symptoms as well. Sildenafil was well tolerated without significant side effects. Zesiewicz et al., performed a shorter study showing improvements in erectile function but no change in depression and parkinsonisms after ED treatment (74).
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).
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.
Neurogenic ED remains difficult to diagnose and treat effectively. It is important to realize that many men with neurologic disorders may have ED related to disease related factors separate from the insult to the neuro-erectile pathway. These disease related factors must be addressed prior or simultaneously with pharmacologic and/or surgical therapy to effectively treat their SD. As awareness of the complexities of normal sexual function increase so will the recognition of SD in this population. This movement will lead to improved quality of life in men with neurologic disorders, as proven by the strong link between sexual function and quality of life.
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.