Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years, [4] exerting substantial effects on quality of life. [5] This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.
Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
With drug therapy, there’s a risk of side effects such as headaches, back pain or an upset stomach. Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction it is important to ensure your doctor is ok with that decision. Medication may not work for all men, for instance, if you have diabetes or have previously had prostate surgery. ED medication might also have serious risks if you’re currently taking nitrates (commonly prescribed for chest pain), have heart disease or have low blood pressure.22
Alprostadil should not be used in men with urethral stricture (scarring and narrowing of the tube that urine and the ejaculate pass through), balanitis (inflammation/infection of the glans [tip] of the penis, severe hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, rather on the underside of the penis), penile curvature (abnormal bend to the penis), and urethritis (inflammation/infection of the urethra).
The most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. These include tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and sildenafil citrate (Viagra). These are effective for about 75% of men with erectile dysfunction. They are tablets that are taken around an hour before sex, and last between 4 and 36 hours. Sexual stimulation is required before an erection will occur. The PDE-5 inhibitors cause dilation of blood vessels in the penis to allow erection to occur, and help it to stay rigid. Men using nitrate medication (e.g. GTN spray or sublingual tablets for angina) should not use PDE-5 inhibitors.
In their extensive review, Bassil and coworkers summarise the benefits and risks, with benefits such as improvement of sexual function, bone density, muscle strength, cognition and overall improvement in quality of life. Among the risks that have been suggested include erythrocytosis, liver toxicity, worsening of sleep apnoea and cardiac function, possibly increasing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). They also note that although a possibility of stimulation of prostate cancer has been hypothesised, no scientific or clinical evidence exists to this possible risk.38
Positron emission tomorgraphy (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have led to a greater understanding to which center are activated during arousal. These imaging studies measure increases in cerebral blood flow or changes in cerebral activity on a real-time basis. Studies are performed when male subject are aroused by visual cues (usually sexual explicit photos or videos) and compared to images obtained during exposure to sexually neutral cues differences can be measured. Several studies have identified that the inferior frontal lobes, inferior temporal lobes and insular gyrus, and occipital lobes are involved with processing arousal cues, although each are likely to process different stimuli (20-23).

A common and important cause of ED is vasculogenic. Many men with ED have comorbid conditions such as hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, tobacco abuse, diabetes mellitus, or coronary artery disease (CAD). [6] The Princeton III Consensus recommends screening men who present with ED for cardiovascular risk factors; ED may be the earliest presentation of atherosclerosis and vascular disease. [7]


Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., Castagna, G., Clementi, M. C., Suardi, N., ... Salonia, A. (2013, July). One patient out of four with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction is a young man — worrisome picture from the everyday clinical practice. The journal of sexual medicine. 10(7), 1833–1841. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsm.12179
In one study, 9.6% reported ‘occasional’ erectile dysfunction, 8.9% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘often’, and 18.6% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘all the time’. Of these, only 11.6% had received treatment.In another study, only 14.1% of men reported that they had received treatment, despite experiencing erectile dysfunction for longer than 12 months.
Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
Multiple combinations of intracavernosal therapy exist and the effectiveness of them varies based on patient characteristics and varying dosing strength (Table 1). Combination therapy have been extremely effective in the SCI population, and have several advantages including a reduction in cost per dose and side effects base on the lowered dose of each component (101,102). Effectiveness of combination therapy in the spinal cord population is well established, but no specific dose recommendations can be made based on the data (103-106). The use of combination therapy on other forms of neurogenic ED have not been well studied, but there use can be trialed as second-line therapy, or for populations were the side effects of PDE5i may preclude use such as in MSA due to hypotension.

The device consists of an acrylic cylinder placed over the penis that uses a lubricant to achieve a good seal between the penile body and cylinder. An erection is then achieved by creating a vacuum inside the cylinder with a pump connected to the cylinder. Once an erection is achieved, a constriction band is applied to the base of the penis to maintain the erection. The cylinder can then be removed and the patient can engage in intercourse with the constriction band at the base of the penis maintaining the erection. The band can remain on for approximately 30 minutes and then must be removed. The erection produced by the device differs from a normal erection likely because of venous occlusion from the constriction band resulting in generalized swelling of the entire penis, with probable preservation of arterial inflow.


• 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.
For many of the 30 million Americans affected by erectile dysfunction, Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are the first line of ED treatment — and they’re successful for about 80 percent of men. These drugs, called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors, are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and work by increasing blood flow to an erection. Common side effects include nasal congestion and headache. Note: If you take nitroglycerin pills for heart disease, you won’t be able to take ED pills, as they can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

Total testosterone levels: Health care professionals should obtain a patient's blood samples for total testosterone levels in the early morning (before 8 a.m.) because the testosterone levels go up and down throughout the day. If you have a low testosterone level, a health care professional should check it again to confirm that it is truly low. In some men, a specialized test measuring the active form of testosterone (free or bioavailable testosterone) may be recommended.
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.
The common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).

The vacuum device creates a vacuum to pull blood into the penis. Unlike a normal erection, the inflow of blood does not continue once the individual removes the vacuum device. The rubber band placed at the base of the penis constricts the penis to prevent the blood from leaving the penis. As there is no inflow or outflow of blood when the rubber band is in place, it is uncommon for the tip of the penis (the glans) to appear a little blue and the penis to be cooler. Once intercourse is completed, the individual removes the rubber band and the blood drains out of the penis.

Injections: Injections are a reliable way to restore testosterone levels, but this therapy requires periodic injections (usually every two weeks) to sustain an effective level. It also causes high hormone levels right after the injection and low hormone levels just before the next shot. This is thought to be slightly more risky than other methods that maintain a moderate hormone level throughout the treatment period.
Psychological Causes of ED – Between 10% and 20% of ED cases have a psychological cause. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.
Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).
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.
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. [10]
The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of paired cylinders, which doctors surgically insert inside the penis. Patients can expand the cylinders using pressurized fluid (see figure 3). Tubes connect the cylinders to a fluid reservoir and pump, which doctors also surgically implant. The reservoir is usually in the pelvis. A doctor places the pump in the scrotum. By pressing on the pump, sterile fluid transfers from the reservoir into the cylinders in the penis. An erection is produced primarily by expansion of the width of the penis, however, one model can increase in length a small amount also. Lock-out valves in the tubing prevent the fluid from leaving the cylinder until a release valve is pressed. By pressing the relief valve and gently squeezing the penis, the fluid within the cylinders transfers back into the reservoir.
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
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.
Between 10 and 88% of patients diagnosed with cancer experience sexual problems following diagnosis and treatment. The prevalence varies according to the location and type of cancer, and the treatment modalities used. Sexuality may be affected by chemotherapy, alterations in body image due to weight change, hair loss or surgical disfigurement, hormonal changes, and cancer treatments that directly affect the pelvic region.
Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
Examples of common neurologic conditions that can lead to ED include cerebral vascular accident, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injury. Microvascular disease associated with diabetes is thought to compound the endothelial and neural injuries associated with this disease. Pelvic surgery may disrupt both neural and vascular pathways, resulting in ED.

Between 10 and 88% of patients diagnosed with cancer experience sexual problems following diagnosis and treatment. The prevalence varies according to the location and type of cancer, and the treatment modalities used. Sexuality may be affected by chemotherapy, alterations in body image due to weight change, hair loss or surgical disfigurement, hormonal changes, and cancer treatments that directly affect the pelvic region.
Phosphodiesterase type V inhibitors (PDE-5 inhibitors) are the most commonly used therapy for erectile dysfunction. These medications work by preventing the breakdown of chemicals that stimulate increased blood flow into the penis. Several different PDE-5 inhibitors are available, which differ slightly in how to use them and their side effects. They appear to be equally effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in general, but some individuals may respond to one of these medications more effectively than another.
Clinical experience in switching medications to improve ED has been disappointing in that improvement does not often occur. Nonetheless, it is important to try to discontinue possible offending medications before proceeding to more invasive ED treatment options. Oral ED medications have changed the way clinicians discontinue medications in patients with ED and has improved the approach. For example, a patient may develop ED on a thiazide diuretic. The diuretic may be withdrawn, but a trial of oral ED therapy can be initiated during the observation period while the patient is waiting to see if any spontaneous improvement in ED occurs after drug withdrawal. Alternatively, if diuretic therapy is effective, well tolerated, and controlling blood pressure, oral ED therapy can be used on an ongoing basis to treat the side effect of ED.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.
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