Erectile dysfunction carries an independent risk for cardiovascular events. A considerable number of studies have examined the ability of ED to predict the risk of future fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, revascularization) and total mortality in the general population and in high CV risk patients, in diabetics and in heart failure patients.5,19–22 In a meta-analysis of 14 prospective cohort studies involving 92 757 men followed for a mean period of 6.1 years (Figure 4), ED increased significantly and independently of traditional risk factors the risk of CV events, CV mortality, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular events, and all-cause mortality by 44, 19, 62, 39, and 25% respectively.5 This predictive ability also extends in men with known CVD: ED increased the risk of all-cause mortality by 90%.5 Of importance, the predictive ability of ED is higher in younger ED patients5 despite the fact that probability of ED increases with age, most likely identifying a group of patients with early and aggressive vascular disease.23 Clinical implementation of ED as a biomarker relies on whether its addition on classical risk scores such as the Systematic COronary Risk Evaluation (SCORE) or the Framingham correctly reclassifies a meaningful percentage of patients into a higher or lower risk category. To this end, data are limited. Yet, in a population-based study of men 40–70 years of age, the addition of the ED status to the Framingham risk score resulted in a reclassification of 6.4% of low-risk patients to intermediate risk.19

However, sildenafil should be used carefully with nitrates because their combination can result in severe hypotension and death.68 Both short- and long-acting nitrates are commonly prescribed to treat angina, but they have no prognostic benefit. In addition, there are numerous alternatives to treat angina, such as ranolazine and ivabradine, which do not interact with PDE5 inhibitors. As a result, patients with ED wishing to take PDE5 inhibitors can safely discontinue their nitrates and replace this treatment with the other anti-anginal agents.68

This category of treatments includes external vacuum therapies: devices that go around the penis and produce erections by increasing the flow of blood in, while constricting the flow out. Such devices imitate a natural erection, and do not interfere with orgasm. External vacuum therapy mechanisms are approximately 95 percent successful in causing and sustaining an erection. All are portable, and costs range between $200-$500, covered under most insurance plans and Medicare Part B.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
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