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.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
The diagnosis of erectile dysfunction relies on the history. It is important to ensure that the problem is truly erectile dysfunction and not a different type of sexual dysfunction. The evaluation of erectile dysfunction focuses on identifying possible medical causes of the erectile dysfunction. Thus, the physician should conduct a full medical history (reviewing past medical and surgical history, medications, and social history) as well as physical examination. Thereafter, a more focused and thorough sexual, medical, and psychosocial history should be performed. Erectile dysfunction is a delicate topic, and a doctor should be sensitive and caring to make you comfortable about sharing these intimate details of your private life. Prior to your visit, you may also complete a validated ED questionnaire such as the IIEF-SHIM questionnaire.
Certain types of blood pressure medications, antiulcer drugs, antihistamines, tranquilizers (especially before intercourse), antifungals (hetoconazole), antipsychotics, antianxiety drugs, and antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, including Prozac and Paxil), can interfere with erectile function. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and illicit drug use may also contribute. In rare cases, low levels of the male hormone testosterone may contribute to erectile failure. Finally, psychological factors, such as stress, guilt, or anxiety, may also play a role, even when the impotence is primarily due to organic causes.
Commercials for drugs to improve “low T,” or testosterone, the male hormone, are now vying for airtime, but they address desire, not performance. "Male hormone is not an approved treatment for erectile dysfunction," notes Bennett. "It may be used to increase desire in men who have low testosterone, but it doesn’t improve blood flow to an erection." A doctor can do a blood test to check you for low testosterone, but it is a rare cause of ED. Hormone therapy with injections, patches, or gels applied to the skin may improve mood and sex drive, but it likely won’t fix any mechanical issues. Also, testosterone drugs should not be used by men with prostate cancer. Side effects include acne, breast enlargement, prostate enlargement, and fluid retention.
A duplex ultrasound is a diagnostic technique that uses painless, high frequency sound waves to visualize structures beneath the skin's surface. The principle is similar to the sonar used on submarines. Sound waves are reflected back when they contact relatively dense structures such as fibrous tissue or blood vessel walls. These reflected sound waves can be converted into pictures of the internal structures being studied.
"Sexual relations are not only an important part of people's wellbeing. From a clinical point of view, the inability of some men to perform sexually can also be linked to a range of other health problems, many of which can be debilitating or potentially fatal," says Professor Gary Wittert, Head of the Discipline of Medicine at the University of Adelaide and Director of the University's Freemasons Foundation Centre for Men's Health.
Injections are most likely to restore testosterone levels, but this therapy requires periodic injections, usually every two to four weeks, to sustain an effective level. As such, it is less ideal for patients to depend on frequent medical visits for long-duration therapy. Coupled with injection-related pain, hematoma formation, and inconvenience, the serum blood levels of testosterone are also variable. Injection therapy should not be used in men who wish to father children due to the abnormally high levels of testosterone that occur initially after the injection.
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:
Injection therapy involves injecting a substance into the penis to enhance blood flow and cause an erection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called alprostadil (Caverject) for this purpose in July of 1995. Alprostadil relaxes smooth muscle tissue to enhance blood flow into the penis. It must be injected shortly before intercourse. Another, similar drug that is sometimes used is papaverine—not yet been approved by the FDA for this use. Either drug may sometimes cause painful erections or priapism (uncomfortable, prolonged erections) that must be treated with a shot of epinephrine.
Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
There are so many potential reasons a man might develop erectile dysfunction (ED), it's nearly impossible to generalize the best ways to treat it. What works for one man may not work for another simply because they are having problems for different reasons. That said, it may encouraging to hear that there are a variety of options that may be considered, from psychological counseling to lifestyle changes, medications to treatments and devices.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
Acupuncture may help treat psychological ED, though studies are limited and inconclusive. You’ll likely need several appointments before you begin to notice any improvements. When choosing an acupuncturist, look for a certified practitioner who uses disposable needles and follows U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for needle disposal and sterilization.
The first stem cell study for the treatment of ED was published in 2004. This study used embryonic stem cells to treat ED. At this time, there is a total of 36 published basic studies assessing stem cell therapy for ED, with two clinical trials. The mechanism of action of stem cells is to generate angiogenesis with subsequent increase in cavernosal smooth muscle cells within the corporal bodies.46
When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
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. 
Another potential new treatment consists of penile low-intensity shock wave lithotripsy. This consists of 1500 shocks twice a week for 3–6 weeks. The purpose is to stimulate neovascularisation to the corporal bodies with improvement in penile blood flow and endothelial function. The use of low-intensity shock wave lithotripsy may convert PDE5 inhibitor non-responders to responders.47
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
Alteration of NO levels is the focus of several approaches to the treatment of ED. Inhibitors of phosphodiesterase, which primarily hydrolyze cGMP type 5, provided the basis for the development of the PDE5 inhibitors. Chen et al administered oral L-arginine and reported subjective improvement in 50 men with ED.  These supplements are readily available commercially. Reported adverse effects include nausea, diarrhea, headache, flushing, numbness, and hypotension.
It is essential to discuss erectile dysfunction with your doctor, so any serious underlying causes can be excluded and treatment options can be discussed. Many men are embarrassed discussing this issue with their doctor, or even their partner. Open communication with your doctor, and in your relationship, is important for effectively managing this common problem.
Prevention of some of the causes that contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction can decrease the chances of developing the problem. For example, if a person decreases their chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, they will decrease their chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Other things like stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet (heart healthy with adequate vitamin intake), and exercising daily may reduce a person's risk.
In rare cases, the drug Viagra ® can cause blue-green shading to vision that lasts for a short time. In rare cases, the drug Cialis® can cause or increase back pain or aching muscles in the back. In most cases, the side effects are linked to PDE5 inhibitor effects on other tissues in the body, meaning they are working to increase blood flow to your penis and at the same time impacting other vascular tissues in your body. These are not ‘allergic reactions'.