Several pathways have been described to explain how information travels from the hypothalamus to the sacral autonomic centers. One pathway travels from the dorsomedial hypothalamus through the dorsal and central gray matter, descends to the locus ceruleus, and projects ventrally in the mesencephalic reticular formation. Input from the brain is conveyed through the dorsal spinal columns to the thoracolumbar and sacral autonomic nuclei.
As is true in so many medical conditions, lifestyle modifications, considered first-line therapy, can have a salutary effect in ED management, and men should be encouraged to make the necessary changes to the benefit of their sexual function and to their overall health as well. Despite the benefits of behaviour modification, men presenting with ED want the physician to help with measures that can have an immediate impact.
Erectile dysfunction can cause strain on a couple. Many times, men will avoid sexual situations due to the emotional pain associated with ED, causing their partner to feel rejected or inadequate. It is important to communicate openly with your partner. Some couples consider seeking treatment for ED together, while other men prefer to seek treatment without their partner's knowledge. A lack of communication is the primary barrier for seeking treatment and can prolong the suffering. The loss of erectile capacity can have a profound effect on a man. The good news is that ED can usually be treated safely and effectively.
Erectile dysfunction or disorder (ED) is the inability to develop and maintain an erection for satisfactory sexual intercourse or activity. Erectile dysfunction or erectile disorder are the preferred terms as opposed to impotence. There are no uniform criteria defining how consistent the problem has to be and for what duration it must be present to considered ED. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-5 specifies a duration of at least 6 months in its definition of ED.1
Metabolism (breakdown) of vardenafil can be slowed by aging, liver disease, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic], ketoconazole [Nizoral, a medication for fungal/yeast infections], and protease inhibitors [medications used to treat AIDS]). Slowed breakdown allows vardenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially increase the risk for side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age with liver disease, or who are also taking medication(s) that can slow the breakdown of vardenafil, the doctor will initiate vardenafil at low doses to avoid its accumulation. For example,
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.
Sildenafil (Viagra) was the first oral phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor approved by the FDA in the United States for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (it is not approved for women). Sildenafil inhibits PDE5, which is an enzyme that destroys cGMP. By inhibiting the destruction of cGMP by PDE5, sildenafil allows cGMP to accumulate. The cGMP in turn prolongs relaxation of the smooth muscle of the corpora cavernosa. Relaxation of the corpora cavernosa smooth muscle allows blood to flow into the penis resulting in increased engorgement of the penis. In short, sildenafil increases blood flow into the penis and decreases blood flow out of the penis.
A vacuum erection device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. This type of device is sometimes referred to as penis pump and may be used just prior to sexual intercourse. Several types of FDA approved vacuum therapy devices are available under prescription. When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to the base of the penis to maintain it. These pumps should be distinguished from other penis pumps (supplied without compression rings) which, rather than being used for temporary treatment of impotence, are claimed to increase penis length if used frequently, or vibrate as an aid to masturbation. More drastically, inflatable or rigid penile implants may be fitted surgically.
As with most other organ system in the human body, changes and loss of function is normal consequence of the ageing process. This is also true of the endocrine system, specifically the levels of testosterone production from the Leydig cells of the testicle. Accompanying the decrease in testosterone is a decrease in erections which also has a component in decrease in the blood supply to the penis making erection not as frequent and not as rigid compared with a young man’s erectile function. Although these changes are in itself not life threatening, they can impact a man’s relationship with his partner, and also ED may be a harbinger of other undiagnosed conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD), hypercholesterolaemia or diabetes mellitus.6
The device consists of an acrylic cylinder placed over the penis that uses a lubricant to achieve a good seal between the penile body and cylinder. An erection is then achieved by creating a vacuum inside the cylinder with a pump connected to the cylinder. Once an erection is achieved, a constriction band is applied to the base of the penis to maintain the erection. The cylinder can then be removed and the patient can engage in intercourse with the constriction band at the base of the penis maintaining the erection. The band can remain on for approximately 30 minutes and then must be removed. The erection produced by the device differs from a normal erection likely because of venous occlusion from the constriction band resulting in generalized swelling of the entire penis, with probable preservation of arterial inflow.
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.
Exercise and lifestyle modifications may improve erectile function. Weight loss may help by decreasing inflammation, increasing testosterone, and improving self-esteem. Patients should be educated to increase activity, reduce weight, and stop smoking, as these efforts can improve or restore erectile function in men without comorbidities. Precise glycemic control in diabetic patients and pharmacologic treatment of hypertension may be important in preventing or reducing sexual dysfunction. 
L-arginine, an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps make nitric oxide, supports a successful erection. Nitric oxide is responsible for making the blood vessels relax, which helps sustain an erection for men. A 1999 study, observed the effects of six weeks of high-dose (5 grams/day) orally administered nitric oxide (NO) donor L-arginine on men with organic ED. Thirty-one percent of those who took 5 grams/day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function. Burns told Medical Daily, “l-arginine and deer antler velvet” have been the most popular go-to natural treatments for men.
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Alprostadil (also known as prostaglandin E1 [PGE1]) is the prominent known smooth-muscle dilator of the corpus cavernosum. Its mechanism of action is believed to be the promotion of intracellular accumulation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, thereby causing decreased intracellular accumulation of calcium and resulting smooth muscle relaxation. Alprostadil can be delivered to the erectile tissue either via an intraurethral suppository that is massaged and then absorbed across the corpus spongiosum of the urethra to the corpora cavernosa, or directly injected into the corpora cavernosa. When administered urethrally, doses are substantially higher than when directly injected (typical dosing is 500 mcg to 1 mg intraurethral compared with 2.5 mcg to 20 mcg intracavernosal).
ED may occur with or without other sexual dysfunction, including decreased libido (decreased interest in sexual activity), orgasmic dysfunction (troubles achieving an orgasm/climax), and ejaculatory dysfunction (problems with the fluid released during sex, including lack of ejaculation [anejaculation], small volume ejaculate, ejaculation that occurs too quickly [premature ejaculation], ejaculate that goes backward into the bladder [retrograde ejaculation] and pain with ejaculation).
Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician now understand that many older men retain an interest in sexual activity as they age. Some primary care physicians think that sexual potency in older men is the norm, and that if it is lacking, it is ‘all in the head.’ This viewpoint has not been supported by current literature. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) found that 52% of men between 40 and 70 years old reported having some form of erectile dysfunction (ED).1 The reality is that ED is a natural part of ageing and that the prevalence increases with age. In the MMAS, they found that roughly 50% of men at 50 years old, 60% of men at 60 years old and 70% of men at 70 years old had ED. Thus, nearly all men who live long enough should develop ED. The myths that surround the problems of impotence or ED confound the attempts of patients to receive treatment and the attempts of physicians to help them.1
The use of injection therapy requires being taught how to properly inject the medication, determination of the best dose, and monitoring for side effects. It is recommended that one inject on the side of the penis at the base and to alternate sides. Injection therapy should be used no more frequently than once every 24 hours. Individuals on blood thinners must be careful with use of injection therapy.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.