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.
Patients should continue testosterone therapy only if there is improvement in the symptoms of hypogonadism and should be monitored regularly. You will need periodic blood tests for testosterone levels and blood tests to monitor your blood count and PSA. Testosterone therapy has health risks, and thus doctors should closely monitor its use. Testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.
One of the first steps is to distinguish between physiological and psychological ED. Determining whether involuntary erections are present is important in eliminating the possibility of psychogenic causes for ED. Obtaining full erections occasionally, such as nocturnal penile tumescence when asleep (that is, when the mind and psychological issues, if any, are less present), tends to suggest that the physical structures are functionally working. Similarly, performance with manual stimulation, as well as any performance anxiety or acute situational ED, may indicate a psychogenic component to ED.
Prior to starting with treatment of erectile dysfunction, it is important to make sure that it is safe from a medical standpoint to participate in sexual activity. Sexual activity is physical exertion, and in some men with significant heart disease, this increase in physical exertion can increase the risk of a heart attack. Thus, it is very important to discuss your cardiovascular risks with your doctor prior to trying any medication or treatment for erectile dysfunction.
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).
Oral therapies via the PDE5i sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil have been proven to be generally safe and effective in select NED populations. The majority of the treatment effectiveness data has been generated in the SCI population. Data regarding the use of PDE5i outside of the SCI population is lacking (58). Furthermore, the ED that exists in the population with neurologic disorders is often multifactorial and may be caused by psychogenic, psychosocial, hormonal, medication-related and disability-related factors. A careful evaluation of each patient must be performed to isolate these factors prior to initiating vasoactive therapy.
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.
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
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.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
Similar to heart-disease-related to atherosclerosis (plaque formation within the blood vessels), the concept of bypassing or angiographically dilating and stenting penile arteries has been entertained recently with improvements in microvascular surgery and interventional radiology. However, the main drawback with most erectile dysfunction is the failure of vascular relaxation within the corpora cavernosa rather than the one feeding penile artery. Stenting or surgical grafting to bypass a blockage would be ideal for a single obstruction site along a penile artery. Because most erectile dysfunction pathology resides within the sponge-like vascular plexus of the penis, the ability of diffusely dilating and expanding the many vascular chambers of the penis is difficult to impossible. As such, unless the situation is that the penile artery was injured during a pelvic trauma, and the potential to bypass another vessel into the single penile artery, the concept of vascular reconstruction or angio-radiology stenting has very low yield.
"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.
Once implanted, the pumps become “part of their body,” Montague explains. “No out-of-pocket cost per use. Predictable response. Works every time.” Pills, even when they work, might be less effective if you’ve had more than a couple drinks or are out of sorts for other reasons. Injections are slightly more reliable than pills but, Montague says, are still subject to variability.
Your Ro physician may recommend trying the medication under different circumstances. Using the medication the first time can be anxiety provoking so they may suggest using it alone until you are familiar with its effect or side effects. If you’ve been prescribed ED medication on the Ro platform, please contact a physician if you have any questions. You are not alone. Use every tool you can and asking questions when you need answers is one of them.
ED is a common occurrence after SCI, occurring in up to 80% of men, and results from disruption of the nerve pathways essential for erection (24,25). Different degrees of ED may occur depending on the spinal cord level of injury (LOI), extent of lesion and timing from injury. Reflexogenic erections can occur with lesions above L3 or L4 when the erectile spinal reflex arc remains intact. Psychogenic erections can occur with low lesions in the sacral and lumbar spinal cord but may not occur in complete lesions above T9 that can damage sympathetic outflow. Additionally, reflexogenic erections are not likely to occur in the spinal shock period that occurs after the initial cord trauma. Conversely, their occurrence may signal that the period of shock is over (26). Typically SCI affects younger men in their “sexual prime” and ED is associated with decreased quality of life (27).
In prescribing sildenafil, a doctor considers the age, general health status, and other medication(s) the patient is taking. The usual starting dose for most men is 50 mg, however, the doctor may increase or decrease the dose depending on side effects and effectiveness. The maximum recommended dose is 100 mg every 24 hours. However, many men will need 100 mg of sildenafil for optimal effectiveness, and some doctors are recommending 100 mg as the starting dose.
In a randomized double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial, sildenafil plus testosterone was not superior to sildenafil plus placebo in improving erectile function in men with ED and low testosterone levels.  The objective of the study was to determine whether the addition of testosterone to sildenafil therapy improves erectile response in men with ED and low testosterone levels.
Another approach is vacuum therapy. The man inserts his penis into a clear plastic cylinder and uses a pump to force air out of the cylinder. This forms a partial vacuum around the penis, which helps to draw blood into the corpora cavernosa. The man then places a special ring over the base of the penis to trap the blood inside it. The only side effect with this type of treatment is occasional bruising if the vacuum is left on too long.
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. 
Individuals at higher risk for priapism (painful erection lasting longer than six hours), including men with sickle cell anemia, thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), polycythemia (increased red blood cell count), multiple myeloma (a cancer of the white blood cells), and history of blood clots (for example, deep venous thrombosis [DVT]) or hyperviscosity (thick blood) syndrome are at increased risk for priapism with MUSE.
There have been rare reports of priapism (prolonged and painful erections lasting six or more hours) with the use of PDE5 inhibitors. Patients with blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and multiple myeloma have higher than normal risks of developing priapism. Untreated priapism can cause injury to the penis and lead to permanent impotence. Therefore, if your erection lasts four hours, you should seek emergency care.
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.
All NOS subtypes produce NO, but each may play a different biologic role in various tissues. nNOS and eNOS are considered constitutive forms because they share biochemical features: They are calcium-dependent, they require calmodulin and reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate for catalytic activity, and they are competitively inhibited by arginine derivatives. nNOS is involved in the regulation of neurotransmission, and eNOS is involved in the regulation of blood flow.
Because impotence can be due to health problems that can affect the whole body, and because it can interfere with one’s quality of life, it is important to talk with your doctor if you have trouble attaining or maintaining an erection. With increasing discussion of impotence in the media, coupled with advances in treatment, men are now much more comfortable talking with their doctors about impotence. It is currently estimated that between 15 and 30 million men in the United States are affected by impotence (Source: NIDDK).
You can also consider using a cock ring or penis ring if you are able to get an erection but have trouble maintaining it. Cock rings work by trapping the blood inside your penis so it remains harder for longer. You can purchase one in a sex store or online for about $5 and you put in on over your penis and testicles when you are half hard and keep it on until you are finished with sex. It’s a great cheap fix for erectile issues.
Apomorphine is a non-selective D1/D2 receptor agonist with moderate efficacy and good tolerability in the treatment of mild ED (80). Apomorphine can be administered via subcutaneous injection or sublingually. However, studies have shows a lower efficacy for apomorphine compared to oral sildenafil (81,82). Apomorphine has a set role in the management of PD for non-motor symptoms, and has been reported to cause spontaneous erections and possible hypersexuality in PD men (83,84). Its role in the management of ED has been postulated for men with PD but should be considered as an alternative to sildenafil.
Adverse effects related to PDE5i use with mild-moderate and transient (58). Furthermore, side effects usually attenuate if use is not discontinued. Autonomic dysreflexia, a life-threatening phenomenon characterized by bradycardia, hypertension, facial flushing and headaches associated with SCI lesions above T6, has not been reported with use. However, hypotension leading to dizziness in individuals treated with sildenafil has been noted with high thoracic and cervical levels of injury (72). No adverse events were noted within the study; however, the dizziness was reported by use of sildenafil 50 mg in the cervical LOI and 100 mg in the thoracic LOI patients. Headache is the most reported side effect of all PDE5i, followed by dyspepsia and flushing. Priapism, and death have not been reported after use of PDE5i by SCI patients.
Years ago, the standard treatment for impotence was an implantable penile prosthesis or long-term psychotherapy. Although physical causes are now more readily diagnosed and treated, individual or marital counseling is still an effective treatment for impotence when emotional factors play a role. Fortunately, other approaches are now available to treat the physical causes of impotence.
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
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 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.
Some men report being helped by an oral medication called yohimbine, which comes from the bark of a tree that grows in India and Africa. This drug, which needs to be taken every day, has been reported to help about 20 to 25 percent of the men taking it. A relatively new but widely used oral medication called Viagra requires a careful medical evaluation by your doctor.
As men age they require more stimulation up front to get and maintain an erection firm enough for sex. Engaging in some foreplay either on you or on your partner is a great way to get your arousal levels up and get an erection that is firm enough for sex. Many men begin to rush the process of sex once they experience ED. They worry that they will lose their erection so they rush rather than go slow understanding that rushing will only make the problem worse.
If conservative treatments for erectile dysfunction are not successful your consultant may recommend penile prosthetic surgery. A penile prosthetic is an implant that allows men with erectile dysfunction to have an erection. Prosthetics may also be used for patients with Peyronie’s disease. There are several types of penile implants. Your consultant will assess your own situation and recommend the implant that meets your needs.
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.
Vacuum devices: Specially designed vacuum devices to produce erections have been used successfully for many years. They are safe and relatively inexpensive. They work by creating a vacuum around the penis that draws blood into the penis, engorging it, and expanding it. There are three components to the device, a plastic cylinder in which the penis is placed, a battery or hand operated pump that draws air out of the cylinder creating the vacuum, and an elastic band (constriction device) that is placed around the base of the penis, to maintain the erection after the cylinder is removed and during intercourse by preventing blood from flowing out of the penis back into the body.
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.
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.
Chancellor et al. (109) compared VEDs with papaverine injections in 18 males with SCI. The injections and pumps were equally effective in inducing erections and no adverse effects from the treatments were reported. Treatment arms were crossed over, subsequently seven men chose the VED and seven men chose the papavarine highlighting equal efficacy in this population. In another treatment arm topical minoxidil was applied without any effective erections achieved by the study subjects.
Induction of erection occurs after stimulation of the cavernous and pelvic nerve plexus. Conversely, stimulation of the sympathetic trunk leads to detumescence. The reflex erectile response requires that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. Tactile and sensory signals are received by the somatic sensory pathways and integrate with parasympathetic nuclei within the sacral spinal cord (S2-4) leading to induction of erection via cholinergic signaling. These reflexogenic erections remain intact with upper motor neuron injuries. Psychogenic erections do not require that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. In a cat models, spinal cord removal below L4/L5 led to absence of a reflexogenic erection but stimulation of the medial preoptic area (MPOA) or placement near a female cat in heat led to erection (5,6). Psychogenic erections occur via induction of central pathways traveling from the brain through the sympathetic chain. Non-penile sensory pathways induced by sight, sound, touch and smell travel through the MPOA to the erection centers within the cord T11-L2, and S2-S4 to induce erections (7). When a sacral lower motor neuron injury is present in men, below T12 these types of erections are more likely to occur (8). Spinal cord lesions above T9 are not associated with psychogenic erections (9). Rigidity of erections is less with psychogenic erections because the thoracolumbar sympathetic outflow may contain a decreased concentration of neurons compared to the parasympathetic outflow from the sacral spinal cord.
Supplements are popular and often cheaper than prescription drugs for ED. However, supplements have not been tested to see how well they work or if they are a safe treatment for ED. Patients should know that many over-the-counter drugs have been found on drug testing to have ‘bootlegged' PDE 5 Inhibitors as their main ingredient. The amounts of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra or Stendra that may be in these supplements is not under quality control and may differ from pill to pill. The FDA has issued consumer warnings and alerts.