According to the Cleveland Clinic, “because erectile dysfunction is caused by a complex set of psychosocial, neurologic, and vascular factors, a specific cause in a patient may remain ambiguous.” The root causes are often related to a blockage or dysfunction of blood vessels. For example, ED can be due to conditions like atherosclerosis or diabetes, hormonal imbalances or problems related to mental health. It’s been found that common causes typically include one or more of the following factors: (2)
Testosterone therapy (TTh) should be reserved for patients who (i) are symptomatic (ED or reduced libido) of testosterone deficiency45 and (ii) they have biochemical evidence of low testosterone (TT <8 nmol/L or 2.3 ng/mL). In men with borderline TT (8–12 nmol/L or 2.3–3.5 ng/mL), a TTh trial (for 3–6 months and continuation if effective) may be envisaged. While adding a PDE5 inhibitor can be considered in men who have not improved with TTh, the usual clinical scenario is to add TTh in patients who have not responded to PDE5 inhibitors. Improvement is dependent on the testosterone levels with better results being obtained at lower levels of TT.45 Despite evidence of benefit in patients with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (angina or heart failure), it should be emphasized that TTh is not a medication with cardiovascular indications.
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
A disruption anywhere along the complex chain of events will impair the capacity to have an erection. Any man who has experienced the frustration of male impotence knows that the consequences extend beyond physical dissatisfaction to anxiety, tension, and embarrassment. A common reason for failure of the erectile apparatus is disruption of the path leading to nitric oxide production and blood flow control.
A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.
Vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is the main cause of sexual dysfunction in untreated hypertensive patients. However, due to the complex etiologic and pathophysiologic nature of sexual dysfunction, exclusion of concomitant diseases and drugs should be the initial step when approaching a hypertensive patient with this clinical condition that is not receiving any antihypertensive medication. Consequently, a significant amount of neurological, psychiatric, urologic and endocrine disorders should be ruled out before vasculogenic sexual dysfunction is diagnosed.
If your physician advises you that the risks of taking an erectile dysfunction medication are too high, he or she can advise you of other treatment options that can enable you to resume sexual activity without risks of complications. These might also include screening to try to determine if your erectile dysfunction has a physiological basis in need of medical intervention, can be corrected through lifestyle changes or if it may have psychological roots. After all, a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease can lead to depression, which can also affect libido. Talk with your doctor to establish a safe, effective plan for resuming intimacy after your heart disease diagnosis.
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.
Arginine. The amino acid L-arginine, which occurs naturally in food, boosts the body's production of nitric oxide, a compound that facilitates erections by dilating blood vessels in the penis. Studies examining L-arginine's effectiveness against impotence have yielded mixed results. A 1999 trial published in the online journal BJU International found that high doses of L-arginine can help improve sexual function, but only in men with abnormal nitric oxide metabolism, such as that associated with cardiovascular disease. In another study, published in 2003 in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, Bulgarian scientists reported that ED sufferers who took L-arginine along with the pine extract pycnogenol saw major improvements in sexual function with no side effects. Arginine can be helpful, says Geo Espinosa, ND, director of the Integrative Urological Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. Espinosa says that men with known cardiovascular problems should take it only with a doctor's supervision; L-arginine can interact with some medications.
Talk with your doctor about your sexual health. Do not be shy or embarrassed. Your doctor has probably dealt with this issue before. If your doctor is an older man, he might even have ED. First, your doctor will figure out what is causing your ED, which can usually be done just by talking with you. Next, your doctor will look for risk factors for atherosclerosis (the Table) by asking you questions, checking your blood pressure, and performing a few blood tests. Identifying and successfully treating atherosclerotic risk factors can reduce the chance of developing major vascular events (heart attacks and strokes).
The prevalence of erectile dysfunction is approximately 2-fold higher in hypertensive patients compared to normotensive individuals. However, erectile dysfunction remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-treated in hypertensive patients. Hypertension per se and antihypertensive drug therapy may contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction in patients with arterial hypertension. The management of erectile dysfunction in hypertensive patients is tricky and should take into account the different effects of antihypertensive drug categories on erectile function. Lifestyle modification should be the mainstay of treating erectile dysfunction in patients with untreated hypertension. Switching antihypertensive therapy should be considered in treated hypertensive patients, unless administered drugs are absolutely indicated for the individual patient. Otherwise, PDE-5 inhibitors should be used, since they are both effective and safe in hypertensive patients. Finally, erectile dysfunction offers the opportunity to recognize asymptomatic cardiovascular disease and better characterize the relevant risk with obvious benefits for cardiovascular disease prevention.
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
Experimental in vivo studies have implicated central and peripheral neuropathy, impaired neurotransmission, and endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of diabetic ED.26,27 Copulatory behavior and penile reflexes are uniformly impaired 4–12 months after the onset of diabetes in the BB rat.26,27 McVary et al.26 found that peripheral neuropathy accounts for only part of the dysfunctional findings, and that spinal sexual reflexes were also severely impaired.
No matter what the cause of erectile dysfunction, it is likely to cause feelings of stress and other emotional reactions. It’s also not uncommon for erection problems to cause tension in a relationship, particularly if one or both partners withdraws emotionally and the problem is not talked about. And it’s possible for a man’s renewed ability to have intercourse after a period of no sexual activity to stir up relationship issues.