In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.
Currently, there are no therapies that cure erectile dysfunction. However, a number of effective therapies are available that allow an individual to have an erection when desired. Depending on the cause of the erectile dysfunction, certain therapies may be more effective than others. Although there is limited data on lifestyle modification, intuitively, decreasing risk factors for erectile dysfunction may help prevent progression of disease.
The causes of erectile dysfunction include aging, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), depression, nerve or spinal cord damage, medication side effects, alcoholism or other substance (drug) abuse, pelvic surgery including radical prostatectomy, pelvic radiation, penile/perineal/pelvic trauma such as pelvic fracture, Peyronie's disease (a disorder that causes curvature of the penis and sometimes painful erections), and low testosterone levels.
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.
A physical cause can be identified in about 80% of cases. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, neurological problems such as following prostatectomy, hypogonadism, and drug side effects. Psychological impotence is where erection or penetration fails due to thoughts or feelings; this is somewhat less frequent, in the order of about 10% of cases. In psychological impotence, there is a strong response to placebo treatment.
ED varies in men with seizure disorders, occurring in 3% to 58% of men with epilepsy (30). The cause of ED is likely multifactorial, with neurologic, endocrine, iatrogenic, psychiatric and psychosocial factors leading to varying degrees of ED (31). ED can occur in periods surrounding active seizures (ictal) or in the periods unrelated to seizure activity (post-ictal) as well (32).
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.
The sympathetic pathway originates from the 11th thoracic to the 2nd lumbar spinal segments and goes via the white rami to enter the sympathetic chain ganglia. Subsequently nerves travel through the lumbar splanchnic to inferior mesenteric and superior hypogastric nerves to the pelvic plexus. The T10 through T12 segments are most often the origin of sympathetic fibers, and the sympathetic chain ganglia that innervate the penis are located in the sacral and caudal ganglia (3).
Examples of common neurologic conditions that can lead to ED include cerebral vascular accident, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury. Microvascular disease associated with diabetes is thought to compound the endothelial and neural injuries associated with this disease. Pelvic surgery may disrupt both neural and vascular pathways, resulting in ED.
All NOS subtypes produce NO, but each may play a different biologic role in various tissues. nNOS and eNOS are considered constitutive forms because they share biochemical features: They are calcium-dependent, they require calmodulin and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate for catalytic activity, and they are competitively inhibited by arginine derivatives. nNOS is involved in the regulation of neurotransmission, and eNOS is involved in the regulation of blood flow.
The role of the endothelium in ED has been noted for a number of years and the overlapping of ED and other conditions, especially coronary heart disease, CVD, affecting endothelial function/dysfunction, is clearly present. The endothelial cell is now known to affect vascular tone and impact the process of atherosclerosis, and impacting ED, CVD and peripheral vascular disease.16
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme.  The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
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.