Under normal circumstances, when a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends a message down the spinal cord and into the nerves of the penis. The nerve endings in the penis release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that signal the corpora cavernosa (the two spongy rods of tissue that span the length of the penis) to relax and fill with blood. As they expand, the corpora cavernosa close off other veins that would normally drain blood from the penis. As the penis becomes engorged with blood, it enlarges and stiffens, causing an erection. Problems with blood vessels, nerves, or tissues of the penis can interfere with an erection.
Patients at high cardiovascular risk should not be treated for ED until their cardiac condition is stabilize. These conditions include unstable or refractory angina, myocardial infarction or cerebrovascular accident within the past 2 weeks, uncontrolled hypertension, New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification III-IV congestive heart failure, high-risk arrhythmias, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathies, and moderate-to-severe valvular disease.25 This class of drugs is also contraindicated in patients who use nitroglycerin or nitrate-containing compounds.26, 27