Impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, in general, the inability of a man to achieve or maintain penile erection and hence the inability to participate fully in sexual intercourse. In its broadest sense the term impotence refers to the inability to become sexually aroused; in this sense it can apply to women as well as to men. In common practice, however, the term has traditionally been used to describe only male sexual dysfunctions. Professional sex therapists, while they identify two distinct dysfunctions as forms of impotence, prefer not to use the term impotence per se. Thus, because of its pejorative connotation in lay usage and because of confusion about its definition, the word impotence has been eliminated from the technical vocabulary in favour of the term “erectile dysfunction.”
Erectile dysfunction (ED) related to compromise of the nervous system is an increasingly common occurrence. This may be due to the multifactorial nature of ED, the myriad of disorders affecting the neurotransmission of erectogenic signals, and improved awareness and diagnosis of ED. Nevertheless, neurogenic ED remains poorly understood and characterized. Disease related factors such as depression, decreased physical and mental function, the burden of chronic illness, and loss of independence may preclude sexual intimacy and lead to ED as well. The amount of data regarding treatment options in subpopulations of differing neurologic disorders remains scarce except for men with spinal cord injury. The treatment options including phosphodiesterase inhibitors, intracavernosal or intraurethral vasoactive agents, vacuum erection devices (VED) and penile prosthetic implantation remain constant. This review discusses the options in specific neurologic conditions, and briefly provides insight into new and future developments that may reshape the management of neurogenic ED.
Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems. Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
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.