Aging: There are two reasons why older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men. First, older men are more likely to develop diseases (such as heart attacks, angina, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure) that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Second, the aging process alone can cause erectile dysfunction in some men by causing changes in the muscle and tissue within the penis.
Research has even found possible links to frequent ejaculation and a lower risk of prostate cancer. In one study of 32,000 men published in 2016 in the journal European Urology, for example, men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month while in their 20s were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who ejaculated four to seven times per month. And men who ejaculated more often in their 40s were 22 percent less likely to get a prostate cancer diagnosis.
• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.
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.
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.
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.
Because the burning side effect is triggered by alprostadil, the formulations with the least alprostadil — tri-mix and certain versions of bi-mix — could work for men who experience burning with the single-drug formula. But some men might choose alprostadil alone because the multi-drug cocktails can cost more and must be dispensed by a compounding pharmacy — one that is authorized to mix medications on site — which could mean the added hassle of a long drive to pick up the drug.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
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.
Several treatments were promoted in the pre-PGE1, pre-prostaglandin era, including yohimbine, trazodone, testosterone, and various herbal remedies. None of these is currently recommended under the updated American Urological Association Guidelines for the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.15 Testosterone supplementation is only recommended for men with low testosterone levels.
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.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Vacuum therapy devices have a few disadvantages. One must interrupt foreplay to use them. You must use the correct-size tension ring and remove it, to prevent penile bruising, after sustaining the erection for 30 minutes. Initial use may produce some soreness. Such devices may be unsuitable for men with certain bleeding disorders. In general, vacuum constriction devices are successful in management of long-term ED.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Alprostadil is a potent vasodilator and smooth muscle relaxant identical to the naturally occurring PGE1. PGE1 binds with specific receptors on smooth muscle cells and activates intracellular adenylate cyclase to produce cAMP, which in turn induces tissue relaxation through a second messenger system (96). PGE1 is the only FDA approved form of intracavernosal therapy and is available commercailly as EDEX, or Caverject. Its efficacy was demonstrated in several clinical trials where the rate of responders ranged from 40% to 80% (97,98). The most common adverse event is penile pain, which is not related to the injection of the medication itself. In men with prolonged use the pain is usually self-limited (99).
Causes of impotence are many and include heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Peyronie's disease, substance abuse, sleep disorders, BPH treatments, relationship problems, blood vessel diseases (such as peripheral vascular disease and others), systemic disease, hormonal imbalance, and medications (such as blood pressure and heart medications).
ICI therapy often produces a reliable erection, which comes down after 20-30 minutes or with climax. Since the ICI erection is not regulated by your penile nerves, you should not be surprised if the erection lasts after orgasm. The most common side effect of ICI therapy is a prolonged erection. Prolonged erections (>1 hour) can be reversed by a second injection (antidote) in the office.