Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common conditions affecting middle-aged and older men. Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician will be called upon to manage this condition or to make referrals to urologists, endocrinologists and cardiologists who will assist in the treatment of ED. This article will briefly discuss the diagnosis and management of ED. In addition, emerging concepts in ED management will be discussed, such as the use of testosterone to treat ED, the role of the endothelium in men with ED and treating the partner of the man with ED. Finally, future potential therapies for ED will be discussed.
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.
Erosion of the prosthesis, whereby it presses through the corporal tissue into the urethra, may occur. Symptoms and signs may include pain, blood in the urine, discharge, abnormal urine stream, and malfunction. If the prosthesis erodes into the urethra, a physician must remove it. If the other cylinder remains intact, it can be left in place. A physician leaves a catheter in place to allow the urethra to heal.
Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
Sildenafil has been previously suggested as a treatment option for ED in men with epilepsy (77,78). However, Matos et al. warned that PDE5i are potentially pro-convulsant and should be used with great caution in men with epilepsy (79). Animal studies in rat and mice overwhelmingly suggest PDE5i can reduce seizure threshold. In human trials, seizures were rare but reported. PDE5i exerted their proconvulsive effect by lower seizure threshold possibly by worsening sleep or obstructive sleep apnea, causing cardiovascular changes, or leading to EEG changes specifically with tadalafil use.
The PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) are prescription drugs which are taken orally.:20–21 Additionally, a cream combining alprostadil with the permeation enhancer DDAIP has been approved in Canada as a first line treatment for erectile dysfunction. Penile injections, on the other hand, can involve one of the following medications: papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1, also known as alprostadil.:25
There are relatively few contraindications to the use of vacuum devices. Some conditions can predispose to priapism or perhaps bleeding with constriction, such as sickle cell disease, polycythemia, and other blood dyscrasias. Patients taking anticoagulants can safely use vacuum constriction devices but need to accept a higher risk of bleeding (ecchymosis). Good manual dexterity is also needed to use the device; if manual dexterity is impaired, a willing sexual partner can learn to apply the device.
This is one of many types of constricting devices placed at the base of the penis to diminish venous outflow and improve the quality and duration of the erection. This is particularly useful in men who have a venous leak and are only able to obtain partial erections that they are unable to maintain. These constricting devices may be used in conjunction with oral agents, injection therapy, and vacuum devices.
In many cases, diagnosing erectile dysfunction requires little more than a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that an underlying health problem may be at play, however, he may request additional testing. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment – here are some of the options:
The neurovascular events that ultimately occur result in the inhibition of adrenergic tone and the release of the nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurotransmitter, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is believed to be released from nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves and endothelial cells. It subsequently stimulates the guanylate cyclase enzyme system in penile smooth muscle. This results in increased levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and ultimately in smooth muscle relaxation, enhancement of arterial inflow, and veno-occlusion, producing adequate firmness for sexual activity.
The art of acupuncture has become the new treatment for everything from back pain, depression, and even ED. Impotence could be more of a state of mind, and acupuncture may help. Through this alternative therapy, fine needles are placed in various parts of the body to relieve pain or stress. Although there are many mixed studies for acupuncture and ED, many tend to confirm positive results. A 1999 study found acupuncture improved the quality of erection and even restored sexual activity in 39 percent of participants.
Men who do not respond or tolerate oral medications are best treated with an internal penile pump (IPP) commonly known as an inflatable implant. The Internal Penile Pump is an inflatable, water-filled device. During the course of a 45-minute outpatient procedure, the pump is inserted through a one-inch opening in the scrotal sac. By squeezing the pump, (which is contained completely within the scrotum), for approximately a minute, fluid is pumped into the penis, resulting in a long lasting erection. To return the penis to its flaccid state, simply press and hold down the pump. Once inserted, there is no maintenance required for the pump, which can remain in place for a lifetime. Couples are once again able to have spontaneous sex. Normal sensation including orgasm and ejaculation are not affected.
Can’t or don’t want to take ED drugs? The vacuum pump method is the next most common choice among men with erectile dysfunction who pass on pills, says Dr. Bennett. To create an erection, you place a plastic cylinder over the penis and pump the air out of the cylinder to force blood to flow into the penis. An elastic ring that you slide onto the base of your penis holds the erection. This ED treatment device is effective for about 75 percent of men. Side effects include numbness, bruising, and weak ejaculation — and the ring must be removed after 30 minutes.
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:
In a prospective study from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial database, Thompson et al reported that men presenting with ED had a significantly higher chance of developing a cardiovascular event over a 7-year follow-up period.  The hazard ratio was 1.45, which is in the range of risk associated with current smoking or a family history of MI.
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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.
Recognized risk factors for ED include cardiovascular disease (CVD) (hypertension, atherosclerosis, and hyperlipidemia), diabetes, depression, alcohol use, smoking, pelvic/perineal surgery or trauma, neurologic disease, obesity, pelvic radiation, and Peyronie’s disease. One study suggested that the relationship between arterial disease and ED is very strong, with 49% (147 of 300) of patients with coronary artery disease noted on cardiac catheterization reporting significant erectile dysfunction.6 Endothelial dysfunction has been indicated as the pathophysiologic mechanism responsible for both CVD and ED.7 The Boston Area Community Health survey demonstrated a dose-response between smoking and incidence of erectile dysfunction.8 Animal studies have demonstrated both smooth-muscle disruption and decreased production of neural nitric oxide synthase in cigarette-exposed animals.9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
"For men who are unwilling or unable to self-inject alprostadil, the FDA has approved this dissolvable pellet that can be inserted directly into the urethra, the opening of the penis," says Dr. Feloney. MUSE, with an inspiring name that actually stands for medicated urethral system for erection, will trigger an erection in about 10 minutes that may last as long as an hour. Using MUSE to treat ED can result in somewhat unpleasant side effects, however — including an aching sensation, burning, redness, and minor bleeding.
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).
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 lab testing obtained for the evaluation of erectile dysfunction may vary with the information obtained on the health history, physical examination, and recent lab testing. A testosterone level is not necessary in all men; however, a physician will order labs to determine a patient's testosterone level if other signs and symptoms of hypogonadism (low testosterone) such as decreased libido, loss of body hair, muscle loss, breast enlargement, osteoporosis, infertility, and decreased penile/testicular size are present.
Having your current medication checked – if you are taking medication already, it could be that your erection problems are a side effect. Have a doctor check whether this is the cause of your problems and if it is, you might be able to switch medications and then find that your erectile dysfunction goes away completely – or at least improves. Medications that can cause erection problems include:
If it is determined that ED is a problem, the patient evaluation should include a detailed sexual and medical history and a physical exam. In particular, it is important to evaluate the ED within the context of ejaculatory problems. There is a strong interplay between premature ejaculation (PE) and ED, with about a third of ED patients reporting PE. The relationship between the PE and ED is bidirectional and successful treatment of one often requires treatment of the other.14
In some cases, nocturnal penile tumescence testing is performed to find out whether the man has erections while asleep. Healthy men usually have about four or five erections throughout the night. The man applies a device to the penis called a Rigiscan before going to bed at night, and the device can determine whether he has had erections. (If a man is able to have normal erections at night, this suggests a psychological cause for his impotence.)
It is estimated that up to 20 million American men frequently suffer from impotence and that it strikes up to half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70. Doctors used to think that most cases of impotence were psychological in origin, but they now recognize that, at least in older men, physical causes may play a primary role in 60% or more of all cases. In men over the age of 60, the leading cause is atherosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries, which can restrict the flow of blood to the penis. Injury or disease of the connective tissue, such as Peyronie's disease, may prevent the corpora cavernosa from completely expanding. Damage to the nerves of the penis, from certain types of surgery or neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis, may also cause impotence. Men with diabetes are especially at risk for impotence because of their high risk of both atherosclerosis and a nerve disease called diabetic neuropathy.
The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.
Erections are more complicated than you think. Your brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and a whole lot of hormones have to work together perfectly or nothing happens. It’s a lot to ask, and sometimes things break down. And while ED happens to most guys at some point in their lives, erectile dysfunction isn’t something you can just ignore and hope it goes away.