The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
Traditionally, erectile impotence (the classical definition of impotence) is the failure to achieve penile erection during intercourse. It may have either physical or psychological causes. Alcoholism, endocrine disease, and neurological disorders are typical physical causes. Psychological causes include anxiety over performance, hostility or other negative feelings toward the sexual partner, and stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional conflicts outside of the relationship. Erectile impotence occasionally occurs with age and, although attributed by the individual to the aging process itself, it is usually secondary to disorders of aging, such as faulty blood circulation or prostate disease. In cases of impotence caused by blood vessel dysfunction, an insufficient supply of blood flows into the penis, or the blood diffuses out into adjacent tissues.
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.
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.
Tadalafil should not be used with alpha-blockers (except Flomax), medicines used to treat high blood pressure, and benign prostate hypertrophy (BPH) because the combination of tadalafil and an alpha-blocker may lower the blood pressure greatly and lead to dizziness and fainting. Examples of alpha-blockers include tamsulosin (Flomax), terazosin (Hytrin), doxazosin (Cardura), alfuzosin (Uroxatral), and prazosin (Minipress). Tamsulosin (Flomax) is the only alpha-blocker that patients can use safely with tadalafil. When tadalafil (20 mg) was given to healthy men taking 0.4 mg of Flomax daily, there was no significant decrease in blood pressure and so patients on this dose of tamsulosin (Flomax) can be prescribed tadalafil. The only alpha-blocker not tested with tadalafil is alfuzosin (Uroxatral), and no recommendations can be made regarding the interaction between the two.
When sexually stimulated there is a release of a chemical, nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the corpus cavernosum. The NO stimulates the production of a compound called cGMP, which causes relaxation of the smooth muscle in the blood vessels supplying the corpus cavernosum. PDE 5 is an enzyme that breaks down cGMP. By inhibiting the breakdown of cGMP by PDE5, these medications allow cGMP to build up in the penis. cGMP causes muscles in the corpora cavernosa of the penis to relax. When the muscle is relaxed, more blood can flow into the penis and fill the spaces in the penis. As the penis fills with blood, the veins in the penis are compressed, and this results a hard erection. When the effect on PDE5 decreases, the cGMP levels go down and the muscle in the penis contracts, causing less blood to flow into the penis and allowing the veins to open up and drain blood out of the penis.
ED can also occur as a side effect of some medications, for example some high blood pressure medications such as certain diuretics and beta blockers. If you think that a medication you are taking has a negative effect on your sex life, you should discuss this with your prescribing doctor. Your doctor may be able to recommend an alternative treatment.
Choosing the treatment that is best for you comes down to preference and efficacy. Montague cites a study that surveyed three groups of men, all of whom were successfully using an ED treatment. One group was on oral medications, one was using injections and a third had surgically implanted pumps. The most satisfied users were those with the implanted prostheses.
A physical exam checks your total health. Examination focusing on your genitals (penis and testicles) is often done to check for ED. Based on your age and risk factors, the exam may also focus on your heart and blood system: heart, peripheral pulses and blood pressure. Based on your age and family history your doctor may do a rectal exam to check the prostate. These tests are not painful. Most patients do not need a lot of testing before starting treatment.