The vascular processes that produce an erection are controlled by the nervous system and certain prescription medications may have the side effect of interfering with necessary nerve signals. Among the possible culprits are a variety of stimulants, sedatives, diuretics, antihistamines, and drugs to treat high blood pressure, cancer, or depression. But never stop a medication unless your doctor tells you to. In addition, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, such as marijuana, may contribute to the dysfunction.
Some men should not take PDE5 inhibitors. They can cause hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure that can lead to fainting and even shock) when given to patients who are taking nitrates (medications taken for heart disease). Therefore, patients taking nitrates daily should not take any of the PDE5 inhibitors. Nitrates relieve angina (chest pain due to insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle because of narrowing of the coronary arteries); these include nitroglycerine tablets, patches, ointments, sprays, and pastes, as well as isosorbide dinitrate and isosorbide mononitrate. Other nitrates such as amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate also are in some recreational drugs called "poppers."
Sexual dysfunction is highly prevalent in men and women. In the MMAS, 52% of the respondents reported some degree of erectile difficulty. Complete ED, defined as (1) the total inability to obtain or maintain an erection during sexual stimulation and (2) the absence of nocturnal erections, occurred in 10% of the respondents. Mild and moderate ED occurred in 17% and 25% of responders, respectively. [15]

Palmer MR, Holt SK, Sarma AV, Dunn RL, Hotaling JM, Cleary PA, Braffett BH, Martin C, Herman WH, Jacobson AM, Wessells H; Diabetes Control and Complications Trial and Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications Research Group. Longitudinal Patterns of Occurrence and Remission of Erectile Dysfunction in Men With Type 1 Diabetes. J Sex Med. 2017 Oct;14(10):1187-1194. Doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.07.012. Epub 2017 Aug 26.
If you can't take one of these oral medications, your physician may have you try Caverject (alprostadil for injection), a hormone that you inject into your penis using a fine needle, or Muse (alprostadil urogenital), a tiny suppository that you insert into the tip of the penis. Both of these will bring on an erection within five to 15 minutes without sexual stimulation.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough to allow penetration of the vagina, and therefore functional sexual intercourse. Generally, the term erectile dysfunction is applied if this occurs frequently (75% of the time) over a significant period if time (several weeks to months). If this is the case, the term impotence may also be used.
Alprostadil injections, which produce an erection in five to 20 minutes that lasts for about an hour. Patients use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (commonly known by the brand names Caverject Impulse and Edex) into the base or side of the penis. Side effects can include bleeding or fibrous tissue formation at the injection site as well as prolonged erection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"Erectile dysfunction can be a very serious issue because it's a marker of underlying cardiovascular disease, and it often occurs before heart conditions become apparent. Therefore, men should consider improving their weight and overall nutrition, exercise more, drink less alcohol and have a better night's sleep, as well as address risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.

ED is defined as the inability to achieve a full erection or the inability to maintain an erection adequate for sexual intimacy. Other types of sexual dysfunction such as premature ejaculation and low libido may occur; however, the most common and disruptive problem in men is ED. Although most men will experience periodic episodes of ED, these episodes tend to become more frequent with advancing age.
VIP is a neurotransmitter with regulatory actions on blood flow, secretion and muscle tone with intracorporal adenylate cyclase activation and smooth muscle relaxation. VIP has been shown to elevate cAMP intracellular concentrations without affecting cGMP levels. However, when VIP is given alone it may not induce erection and requires combination with phentolamine or papaverine for it to be effective (88). Common associated adverse effects were facial flushing and headache. VIP in combination with phentolamine is currently being used in the UK and Europe and is seeking regulatory approval for use in the United States.

The first step in treating the patient with ED is to take a thorough sexual, medical, and psychosocial history. Questionnaires are available to assist clinicians in obtaining important patient data. (See Presentation.) Successful treatment of sexual dysfunction has been demonstrated to improve sexual intimacy and satisfaction, improve sexual aspects of quality of life, improve overall quality of life, and relieve symptoms of depression. (See Treatment.)


The next new treatments for erectile dysfunction will probably be improvements in some ED drugs already being used. "A dissolvable form of Levitra that you put under your tongue is coming that may work more quickly than the pills we have now," says Feloney. A new form of alprostadil may make it possible for you to rub it directly on the penis instead of inserting or injecting it. And newer phosphodiesterase inhibitors that last even longer and cause fewer side effects are being developed. Stay tuned!
One study by Palmer and colleagues evaluated sildenafil use in SB males with thoracic lesions (76). A prospective, blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation, crossover study in 17 patients with SB and ED was performed. All study participates took sets of tablet in groups, two sets of placebo, one of 25 mg, and the last 50 mg. Overall response to the tablet sets was measured by IIEF response and self-report of erectile rigidity. Patients reported that taking 50 mg of sildenafil led to improved erections, duration of erections, frequency of erections and level of confidence compared to sildenafil 25 mg and more significantly compared to placebo. Of the five patients who reported side effects, two experienced mild hematological changes that reverted to baseline after study completion.
Risks associated with injection therapy including bleeding, pain with injection, penile pain, priapism, and corporal fibrosis (scarring inside of the corpora cavernosa). There is also concern that repetitive injections in the same area could cause scar tissue to build up in the tunica albuginea that could create penile curvature. Thus, doctors recommended that one alternate sides with injection and perform injections no more frequent than every other day.
Alprostadil (also known as prostaglandin E1 [PGE1]) is the prominent known smooth-muscle dilator of the corpus cavernosum. Its mechanism of action is believed to be the promotion of intracellular accumulation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, thereby causing decreased intracellular accumulation of calcium and resulting smooth muscle relaxation. Alprostadil can be delivered to the erectile tissue either via an intraurethral suppository that is massaged and then absorbed across the corpus spongiosum of the urethra to the corpora cavernosa, or directly injected into the corpora cavernosa. When administered urethrally, doses are substantially higher than when directly injected (typical dosing is 500 mcg to 1 mg intraurethral compared with 2.5 mcg to 20 mcg intracavernosal).

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.
Experiencing ED can also be a reason to try not penetrative sex.  Try planning a sex session with your partner hat isn't focused on your erection at all.  Things like kissing, licking, sucking, foreplay and teasing all are super stimulating and don't focus on penetration.  Feel free to bring each other to orgasm using these ideas and see if you are able to relax and enjoy the experience.  Many men feel like failures when their erections become unreliable.  Having a few successful sexual sessions that lead to orgasm without penetration can put the fun back into having sex.  Many couples find success using this technique and begin to reengage sexually instead of avoiding being sexual for fear of failure.
Nerves originating in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia innervate the penis. There are autonomic (parasympathetic and sympathetic), and somatic separate and integrated pathways. The autonomic pathways neurons originate in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia from the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, respectively. They merge to form the cavernous nerves that travel alongside the prostate, enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to affect the neurovascular events required for tumescence and detumescence. The somatic nerves send sensory information from the penile skin, glans, and urethra via the dorsal penile nerve and pudendal nerve to the spinal cord. The somatic nerves also initiate contraction of the ischio- and bulbocavernosus muscles.
The FDA recommends that men follow general precautions before taking a medication for ED. Men who are taking medications that contain nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, should NOT use these medications. Taking nitrates with one of these medications can lower blood pressure too much. In addition, men who take tadalafil or vardenfil should use alpha blockers with care and only as instructed by their physician, as they could result in hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure). Experts recommend that men have a complete medical history and physical examination to determine the cause of ED. Men should tell their doctor about all the medications they are taking, including over-the-counter medications.
Pay attention to your vascular health. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides can all damage arteries in the heart (causing heart attack), in the brain (causing stroke), and leading to the penis (causing ED). An expanding waistline also contributes. Check with your doctor to find out whether your vascular system — and thus your heart, brain, and penis — is in good shape or needs a tune-up through lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medications.
Some men say certain alternative medicines taken by mouth can help them get and maintain an erection. However, not all “natural” medicines or supplements are safe. Combinations of certain prescribed and alternative medicines could cause major health problems. To help ensure coordinated and safe care, discuss your use of alternative medicines, including use of vitamin and mineral supplements, with a health care professional. Also, never order a medicine online without talking with your doctor.

Inside the cell, NOS catalyzes the oxidation of L-arginine to NO and L-citrulline. Endogenous blockers of this pathway have been identified. The gaseous NO that is produced acts as a neurotransmitter or paracrine messenger. Its biologic half-life is only 5 seconds. NO may act within the cell or diffuse and interact with nearby target cells. In the corpora cavernosa, NO activates guanylate cyclase, which in turn increases cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Relaxation of vascular smooth muscles by cGMP leads to vasodilation and increased blood flow.

Impotence is a common problem among men and is characterized by the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse or the inability to achieve ejaculation, or both. Erectile dysfunction can vary. It can involve a total inability to achieve an erection or ejaculation, an inconsistent ability to do so, or a tendency to sustain only very brief erections.

The role of the endothelium in erectile function became clearer with the observation that the phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitor, sildenafil, enhanced erectile function. Erection occurs with the release of nitric oxide (NO) from the vascular endothelial cells.17 The reduction in endothelial cell production of NO results in the negative impact on the smooth muscles in the corporal bodies and results in less relaxation of the smooth muscle cells with decrease in blood supply and resulting ED. A similar phenomenon is well known to impact the coronary arterial system resulting in CVD.
Many reasonable nonsurgical erectile dysfunction (impotence) treatment options exist, including external vacuum devices, medications (oral and topical), hormonal therapy, penile injection therapy, and intraurethral pellet therapy. Sex counseling to further improve one's sexual health and sex life is another option and is discussed in Living With Erectile Dysfunction.
It is common for a healthy older man to still want sex and be able to have sex within appropriate limitations. Understanding what is normal in older age is important to avoid frustration and concern. Older men and their partners often value being able to continue sexual activity and there is no age where the man is ‘too old’ to think about getting help with his erection or other sexual problems.
Malleable implants usually consist of paired rods, inserted surgically into each of the corpora cavernosa. The rods are stiff, and to have an erection, one bends them up and then when finished with intercourse one bends them down. They do not change in length or width. The malleable implants are the least mechanical and thus have the lowest risk of malfunction. However, also have the least "normal appearance."
ED is easily and successfully treated! If your sex drive is unaffected, but you experience problems achieving or sustaining erection for a period of four to five weeks, you may have ED. Talk to your doctor immediately. Don’t delay—erectile dysfunction doesn’t “just go away!” Additionally, ED could be a sign of a serious, even life-threatening complication, such as congestive heart failure or kidney disease. Ignoring your ED because it’s embarrassing could jeopardize your health.

The mechanisms by which testosterone plays a role in erectile function are not completely understood. A study evaluating the effect of testosterone on erections in surgically castrated rabbits and control animals, in which the rabbits’ intracavernosal pressures were compared after cavernosal nerve stimulation, determined that castrated rabbits had much lower pressures after stimulation than control rabbits did. [21] Notably, the pressures increased when castrated rabbits received exogenous testosterone replacement.
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
Trauma to the pelvic blood vessels or nerves can also lead result in ED. Bicycle riding for long periods has been implicated as an etiologic factor; direct compression of the perineum by the bicycle seat may cause vascular and nerve injury. [37] On the other hand, bicycling for less than 3 hours per week may be somewhat protective against ED. [37] Some of the newer bicycle seats have been designed to diminish pressure on the perineum. [37, 38]
Several pre-treatment factors have been described that may indicate success with PDE5i therapy. The presence of an upper motor neuron lesion up to T12 suggests a successful response, as well as requirement for a lower dosage of medication (62,68-71). Additionally, the presence of residual erections after injury or an incomplete SCI (ASI-A vs. ASIB-D) also improve the chance of PDE5i treatment success (59,67,68,71).
Iatrogenic hypotension can occur in men in neurodegenerative disease using sildenafil (49). Hussain et al. placed men with PD and MSA on sildenafil and recorded blood pressure before and after. Half of the 12 MSA patients developed postural hypotension, while none of the twelve PD patients did. Since MSA can be difficult to distinguished diagnostically from PD, baseline blood pressure measurements prior to prescribing the medication and seeking medical assistance if symptomatic hypotension occurred was recommended for all patients with PD, and MSA. Of note, none of the men with MSA who developed hypotension discontinued sildenafil use due to its effectiveness at improving their erections.
These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.
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