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

In most healthy men, some of the drug will remain in the body for more than two days after a single dose of tadalafil. Metabolism (clearing of the drug from the body) of tadalafil can be slowed by liver disease, kidney disease, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin, ketoconazole, and protease inhibitors). Slowed breakdown allows tadalafil to stay in the body longer and potentially increase the risk for side effects. Therefore, doctors have to lower the dose and frequency of tadalafil in the following examples:

Certain types of blood pressure medications, antiulcer drugs, antihistamines, tranquilizers (especially before intercourse), antifungals (hetoconazole), antipsychotics, antianxiety drugs, and antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, including Prozac and Paxil), can interfere with erectile function. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and illicit drug use may also contribute. In rare cases, low levels of the male hormone testosterone may contribute to erectile failure. Finally, psychological factors, such as stress, guilt, or anxiety, may also play a role, even when the impotence is primarily due to organic causes.

When it comes to boosting sexual performance, many men will walk all over God’s green earth looking for ways to maintain a good sex life. Luckily men, all you have to do is walk — not run — 2 miles a day. This, along with other healthier lifestyle interventions can help obese men reduce their risk of ED, or even “reverse” current impotence, according to a 2005 study. This comes of importance, since maintaining a trim waistline is a good defense for ED, as men with a 42-inch waist are 50 percent more likely to have ED than those with a 32-inch waist. Getting to a healthy weight and maintaining it is a good strategy for preventing and treating ED.

All of these medicines work by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow in the penis during sexual stimulation. You should not take any of these medicines to treat ED if you are taking nitrates to treat a heart condition. Nitrates widen and relax your blood vessels. The combination can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, which may cause you to become faint or dizzy, or fall, leading to possible injuries.
When it comes to boosting sexual performance, many men will walk all over God’s green earth looking for ways to maintain a good sex life. Luckily men, all you have to do is walk — not run — 2 miles a day. This, along with other healthier lifestyle interventions can help obese men reduce their risk of ED, or even “reverse” current impotence, according to a 2005 study. This comes of importance, since maintaining a trim waistline is a good defense for ED, as men with a 42-inch waist are 50 percent more likely to have ED than those with a 32-inch waist. Getting to a healthy weight and maintaining it is a good strategy for preventing and treating ED.
A variety of lifestyle choices can affect the ability to achieve and maintain an erection, so preventing ED is possible in some cases. Men are encouraged to manage chronic health problems with their doctors and to exercise regularly. They also should avoid smoking and excess alcohol and get help for anxiety or depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.
In most healthy men, some of the drug will remain in the body for more than two days after a single dose of tadalafil. Metabolism (clearing of the drug from the body) of tadalafil can be slowed by liver disease, kidney disease, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin, ketoconazole, and protease inhibitors). Slowed breakdown allows tadalafil to stay in the body longer and potentially increase the risk for side effects. Therefore, doctors have to lower the dose and frequency of tadalafil in the following examples:

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.


Clearly, PDE5i have revolutionized the treatment of ED in general and the neurogenic ED population is no exception. They remain safe and effective in most men with neurogenic ED; however, care must be taken in prescribing PDE5i to men high spinal cord lesions, MSA or possibly PD. VEDs are minimally-invasive and can be as effective as other modalities at leading to erection. However, high discontinuation rates are associated with VED use related to pain, difficulty using the device or cold penis. Intracavernosal therapy has been a mainstay of treatment for neurogenic ED and remains extremely successful in the SCI population. Trial of intracavernosal therapy for other causes of neurogenic ED can be considered second-line therapy, but there is a relative paucity of data for clinical outcomes related to its use outside of SCI men. Surgical therapy via penile implantation remains another second line approach and may also be utilized to assist men with bladder management. Higher complication rates of infections, and perforation have been reported compared to neurologically intact men. Many other compounds are currently being evaluated for the treatment of neurogenic ED as well as gene and stem cell therapy, but still should be considered investigational until substantiated by randomized controlled trials.
Medications such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), or tadalafil (Cialis) may help improve sexual function in men by increasing blood flow to the penis. Men who are on medicines that contain nitrates such as nitroglycerine should not take oral ED medications. The combination of nitrates and these specific medications can cause low blood pressure (hypotension).
Following a detailed discussion about the history of erectile dysfunction and its risk factors, your doctor will examine the testicles and penis to help determine the cause of erectile dysfunction. Your doctor will check reflexes and pulses in the area to see if problems with blood vessels or nerves are contributing to the erectile dysfunction. If necessary, your doctor will order tests to help diagnose erectile dysfunction.
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In order to establish whether normal erections are occurring overnight (nocturnal erections), the doctor may organise nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) testing. This involves wearing a monitor overnight in your own home. The data from this monitor is then assessed to analyse how often erections occurred, how long they lasted, and how rigid and large the penis was during the erections. If NPT testing is normal, the cause of erectile dysfunction is usually psychological. If not, further testing of the blood flow in the genital area may be required to see if there is blockage or leakage. The doctor may also organise a blood test of levels of hormones such as testosterone, prolactin and thyroid stimulating hormone to see if these are contributing to the erectile dysfunction.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Although not proven, it is likely that erectile dysfunction can be prevented by good general health, paying particular attention to body weight, exercise, and cigarette smoking. For example, heart disease and diabetes are problems that can cause erectile dysfunction, and both are preventable through lifestyle changes such as sensible eating and regular exercise. Furthermore, early diagnosis and treatment of associated conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol may prevent or delay erectile dysfunction, or stop the erectile dysfunction from getting more serious.
PDE5 inhibitors, the primary second-line therapy, have been the mainstay of ED treatment since the release of sildenafil (Viagra) in 1998, with the subsequent development of many others, and still more in the development stage. These medications do improve erectile quality for the majority of men, and they work by enhancing blood flow in the corpora cavernosa. These medications are generally used on demand and need to be taken about an hour before sexual intimacy. Tadalafil (Cialis) is longer acting and does come in a daily preparation potentially eliminating the ‘on-demand’ need. The daily dosing of tadalafil, 2.5–5 mg\day, has also been approved by the FDA for treatment of symptoms of BPH.41 PDE5 inhibitors are contraindicated in men taking nitrates, but otherwise PDE5 inhibitors are very safe and effective. When PDE5 inhibitors are coadministered with nitrates, pronounced systemic vasodilation and severe hypotension are possible. Many patients with ED are elderly and have the same risk factors as patients with CAD, so these drug combinations are commonly considered or encountered in clinical practice.42
Finally, gene therapy and stem cell research has widened the frontier of ED treatment proposed as possibility to even reverse ED. Specifically, gene therapy pertains to repairing the cause of ED by restoring defective gene function and/or altering the expression of the mutant gene (32). Most of the available data on gene therapy are in the animal model. However, a phase I clinical trial in men with ED undergoing intracavernous injection with a DNA plasmid carrying the alpha-subunit of the corporal smooth muscle Maxi-K channel showed promise in increased erectile function based on IIEF assessment sustained throughout the 3-month study period (122).
Instead of the hesitation with which he had accosted the cardinal a quarter of an hour before, there might be read in the eyes of the young king that will against which a struggle might be maintained, and which might be crushed by its own impotence, but which, at least, would preserve, like a wound in the depth of the heart, the remembrance of its defeat.
A number of herbs have been promoted for treating impotence. The most widely touted herbs for this purpose are Coryanthe yohimbe (available by prescription as yohimbine, with the trade name Yocon) and gingko (Gingko biloba), although neither has been conclusively shown to help the condition in controlled studies. In addition, gingko carries some risk of abnormal blood clotting and should be avoided by men taking blood thinners such as coumadin. Other herbs promoted for treating impotence include true unicorn root (Aletrius farinosa), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus). Strychnos Nux vomica has been recommended, especially when impotence is caused by excessive alcohol, cigarettes, or dietary indiscretions, but it can be very toxic if taken improperly, so it should be used only under the strict supervision of a physician trained in its use.
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.
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).

VED involved placing the penis in a clear plastic tube where negative pressure created by the vacuum pump leads to penile engorgement and tumescence. Usually a constriction ring can be placed on the base of penis following penile engorgement. Some men complain of bruising, a “cold” penis and pain associated with the constriction ring; however, in some men with NED sensation may not be intact mitigating the side effects of VEDs. VEDs have reported effectiveness up to 90% in certain ED populations and it remains a non-invasive means to achieve and erection.
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. [4] Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.

Other factors leading to erectile dysfunction are diabetes mellitus, which is a well-known cause of neuropathy).[2] ED is also related to generally poor physical health, poor dietary habits, obesity, and most specifically cardiovascular disease, such as coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease.[2] Screening for cardiovascular risk factors, such as smoking, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and alcoholism is helpful.[2]


Depending on the cause, erectile dysfunction (ED) may be curable, but the condition is almost always treatable for most men. The first step is to visit your doctor, because several health conditions -- and the medications that treat them -- can cause ED. For example, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease causes arteries to narrow, which decreases blood flow to the penis and can cause trouble getting or maintaining an erection.


Surgery: If neither drugs nor the vacuum pump works, your doctor may suggest surgery. With surgery, the doctor can place a device in your penis that will cause enough hardness for intercourse. In a few cases, infections may develop after the operation, and the doctor may have to remove the device. Another operation that may help you is rebuilding the blood vessels in the penis to increase blood flow into the penis or decrease blood flow out of the penis. These procedures can help you to get and maintain an erection.
Specially designed vacuum devices to produce erections have been used successfully for many years. Vacuum devices are safe, relatively inexpensive, and reliable. Vacuum devices do not require surgery. Vacuum devices are available over the counter or by prescription. It is important to make sure that the vacuum device have a mechanism to prevent too high of a vacuum (negative pressure).
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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.
Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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