Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
The sympathetic pathway originates from the 11th thoracic to the 2nd lumbar spinal segments and goes via the white rami to enter the sympathetic chain ganglia. Subsequently nerves travel through the lumbar splanchnic to inferior mesenteric and superior hypogastric nerves to the pelvic plexus. The T10 through T12 segments are most often the origin of sympathetic fibers, and the sympathetic chain ganglia that innervate the penis are located in the sacral and caudal ganglia (3).
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.
Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are in rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. Only a very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate. These treatments require extensive planning which interferes with spontaneity. This may be the reason why the refill rate is so low and the drop out of treatment so high.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
Certain street drugs such as "poppers" also can cause serious problems if taken with PDE5i medications. These poppers are often types of nitrates and can cause severe drops in blood pressure. Ecstasy is another street drug that may increase sexual desire but interferes with performance. This has prompted some men to combine ecstasy with PDE5i medications. This mixture (a combination sometimes called "sextasy") can improve erection ability but also causes severe headache and priapism. (Priapism is an abnormally prolonged erection that becomes extremely painful and may result in permanent damage to the erection mechanism.) There are also potentially dangerous effects to your heart from mixing PDE5i medications with various other street drugs.
A physical examination is necessary. The doctor will pay particular attention to the genitals and nervous, vascular, and urinary systems. Your blood pressure will be checked because several studies have demonstrated a connection between high blood pressure and erectile dysfunction. The physical examination will confirm information you gave the doctor in your medical history and may help reveal unsuspected disorders such as diabetes, vascular disease, penile plaques (scar tissue or firm lumps under the skin of the penis), testicular problems, low male hormone production, injury, or disease to the nerves of the penis and various prostate disorders.
Oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5 inhibitors) unless contraindicated are the recommended first line medical therapy for erectile dysfunction. Currently, there are four different PDE5 inhibitors available. They all work the same way and have essentially the same results. They differ in how long they last in your body and in side effects.
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Picture of penile tumescence monitor. This penile tumescence monitor is placed at the base and near the corona of the penis. It is connected to a monitor that records a continuous graph depicting the force and duration of erections that occur during sleep. The monitor is strapped to the leg. The nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test is conducted on several nights to obtain an accurate indication of erections that normally occur during the alpha phase of sleep.
Instead of injecting a medicine, some men insert a suppository of alprostadil into the urethra. A suppository is a solid piece of medicine that you insert into your body where it dissolves. A health care professional will prescribe a prefilled applicator for you to insert the pellet about an inch into your urethra. An erection will begin within 8 to 10 minutes and may last 30 to 60 minutes.
Oral therapy (pills) is the least effective and the most likely to be associated with liver problems, even though this is a small risk. This is related to the first-pass effect of all medications ingested via the digestive system. Once absorbed from the intesting, all food materials must pass through the hepatic (liver) system and be metabolized. As such, the actual delivery to the systemic blood system is low due to the liver metabolism of the testosterone. For this reason, the oral doses are quite high in order to get serum levels higher.
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.
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.
However, studies have shown that fewer then 50% of men with ED and Diabetes respond to oral medicines. Also,fewer than 35% of men with ED after prostate cancer surgery respond to oral medicines. For these men the Internal Penile Implant is currently the best option. The Penile Implant is an approved medical option that has been used for over 30 years. During the course of a 45-minute outpatient procedure, the pump is inserted through a small one-inch opening in the scrotal sac. By squeezing the pump, fluid is pumped, resulting in a long lasting erection. Once inserted, there is no maintenance required for the pump and can remain in place for a lifetime.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.