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.
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.
Infection is a concern after placement of a penile prosthesis and is reported as a complication in up to 20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If the device becomes infected more commonly, it needs to be removed. Another prosthesis can be placed after the infection is treated and the penile tissues have healed, but it is a difficult surgery. Erosion of the prosthesis, whereby it compresses through the corporal tissue, into the urethra may occur. Symptoms include pain, blood in the urine, discharge, abnormal stream, and malfunction of the prosthesis. If the prosthesis erodes, it will need to be removed. A catheter is placed to allow the urethra to heal.
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:
This technique is effective in 60%-90% of men. It is not recommended to leave the tension ring in place longer than 30 minutes. The vacuum device may be the only therapy that is effective after removal of a penile prosthesis. The vacuum device has become a commonly used therapy as part of penile rehabilitation after radical prostatectomy to preserve the tissue of the penis and prevent scarring within the penis and loss of penile length.
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 U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a list of 29 OTC products that claim to treat erectile dysfunction. Patients should avoid these because many contain harmful ingredients. Other natural or herbal remedies such as DHEA, L-arginine, ginseng, and yohimbe are supplements that have been used but have not been proven safe and effective according to some researchers. Before using such compounds, individuals should consult their doctor. According to some experts, acupuncture does not effectively treat erectile dysfunction. Other home remedies for reducing ED symptoms include diet changes such as eating blueberries and citrus fruits and drinking red wine.
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.
Medications: Many common medicines produce erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include many used to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants. Examples of common medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include propranolol (Inderal) or other beta-blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, digoxin (Lanoxin), amitriptyline (Elavil), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), metoclopramide (Reglan), naproxen, indomethacin (Indocin), lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), verapamil (Calan, Verelan, Isoptin), phenytoin (Dilantin), gemfibrozil (Lopid), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and phentermine. Prostate cancer medications that lower testosterone levels such as leuprolide (Lupron) may affect erectile function. Some chemotherapies such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may affect erectile function.
Much of the emphasis on erectile pathophysiology has been placed on penile smooth muscle function and cavernosal hemodynamics. The neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of erection can be characterized but its full extent is poorly understood. Neurologic disease does not always reproducibly affect erections in a uniform manner compared to other types of sexual dysfunction (SD). This offers many obstacles to understanding the role the nervous systems plays in SD and consequently obscures what treatment options readily optimize erections specific to the neurologic insult.
Alprostadil, a synthetic PGE1, is the most commonly used single drug for injections into the penis as a treatment for ED. It works well in the majority of men who try it. In one study of 683 men with ED, 94% reported having erections suitable for penetration after PGE1 injections. When PGE1 is used in combination with papaverine and Regitine, the mixture is called Trimix, which has roughly twice the effectiveness of alprostadil alone. However, Trimix is quite expensive and is usually not covered by insurance, while PGE1 is often a covered benefit in most insurance medication plans. The main side effects are pain from the medication (not from the injection), priapism (persistent or abnormally prolonged erection), and scarring at the site of the injection. It is recommended that one alternate the side of the penis being injected to help decrease the risk of penile scarring. Many men are uncomfortable with penile injection therapy even though the injection itself is painless. The injection cannot be done more often than every other day. Men on anticoagulant medications (blood thinners) must be careful with injection therapy.
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.
The most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. These include tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and sildenafil citrate (Viagra). These are effective for about 75% of men with erectile dysfunction. They are tablets that are taken around an hour before sex, and last between 4 and 36 hours. Sexual stimulation is required before an erection will occur. The PDE-5 inhibitors cause dilation of blood vessels in the penis to allow erection to occur, and help it to stay rigid. Men using nitrate medication (e.g. GTN spray or sublingual tablets for angina) should not use PDE-5 inhibitors.
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.”
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil.  This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
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.
Medical conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, also contribute to sexual dysfunction in middle-aged or elderly men. CVD and hypertension cause a narrowing and hardening of the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow to the corporal bodies, which is essential for achieving an erection. Diabetes is a common aetiology of sexual dysfunction, because it can affect both the blood vessels and the nerves that supply the penis. Men with diabetes are four times more likely to experience ED, and on average, experience ED 15 years earlier than men without diabetes.7 Obesity is also correlated to the development of several types of dysfunction, including a decrease in sex drive and an increase in episodes of ED.8
However, in contrast, a recent systematic review of published studies, the authors concluded that overall, the addition of testosterone to PDE-5 inhibitors might benefit patients with ED associated with testosterone levels of less than 300 ng/dL (10.4 nmol/L) who failed monotherapy.  A limitation of existing studies are their heterogeneous nature and methodological drawbacks.
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
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.
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).
Low-intensity extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been proposed as a new non-invasive treatment for erectile dysfunction caused by problems with blood vessels. Shock wave therapy machines are now available in some medical practices in Australia. Although there is some evidence that it may help a proportion of men with erectile dysfunction, more research is needed before clear recommendations on its use can be made.
It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme.  The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
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.