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.
When sexually stimulated/aroused, the nerves supplying the penis release a chemical, nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide is important because it stimulates the production of a chemical called cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). cGMP causes the muscle in arteries of the penis to relax and increase blood flow into the penis. NO is broken down in the body by phosphodiesterase enzymes. PDE5 inhibitors thus prevent the breakdown of NO and thus promote increased blood flow into the penis.

Implantable penile prostheses are usually considered a last resort for treating impotence. They are implanted in the corpora cavernosa to make the penis rigid without the need for blood flow. The semirigid type of prosthesis consists of a pair of flexible silicone rods that can be bent up or down. This type of device has a low failure rate but, unfortunately, it causes the penis to always be erect, which can be difficult to conceal under clothing.
Conditions that may be associated with ED include diabetes, [25, 26, 27] hypertension, [28] , and CAD, as well as neurologic disorders, endocrinopathies, benign prostatic hyperplasia, [29] , sleep apnea [30] , COPD, [31] and depression (see Table 1 below). [32, 33, 34, 35] In fact, almost any disease may affect erectile function by altering the nervous, vascular, or hormonal systems. Various diseases may produce changes in the smooth muscle tissue of the corpora cavernosa or influence the patient’s psychological mood and behavior.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
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Nocturnal penile tumescence testing (NPT) may be useful in distinguishing mental from physical impotence. This test involves the placement of a band around the penis that you would wear during two or three successive nights. If an erection occurs, which is expected during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the force and duration are measured on a graph. Inadequate or no erections during sleep suggests an organic or physical problem, while a normal result may indicate a high likelihood of emotional, psychological, or mental causes.
The dose of PDE5 inhibitor that you start with may vary with underlying medical conditions and medications that you are taking. Thus, it is important to review all medications (even over the counter medications) with your physician. Typically, one starts with a lower dose and increases as needed. Some medical conditions prevent going up to higher doses. You can review the drug prescribing information or consult with your doctor regarding the dose(s) that are appropriate for you.
Associated morbidity may include various other male sexual dysfunctions, such as premature (early) ejaculation and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The NHSLS found that 28.5% of men aged 18-59 years reported premature ejaculation, and 15.8% lacked sexual interest during the past year. An additional 17% reported anxiety about sexual performance, and 8.1% had a lack of pleasure in sex. [51]

All studies demonstrate a strong association with age, even when data are adjusted for the confounding effects of other risk factors. The independent association with aging suggests that vascular changes in the arteries and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa, similar to those found elsewhere in the body, are contributing factors. Other risk factors associated with aging include depression, sleep apnea, and low HDL levels.

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.


Achieving an erection is a complicated process, requiring transmission of sensations from the genital area to the nervous system and the return of nervous impulses to the muscles and blood vessels of the penis. Anything that interferes with this interchange, such as disease or injury of the blood vessels, muscles, or nerves, can make achieving and maintaining an erection difficult. Psychological factors, such as anxiety and depression, can also interfere with erectile function. Anxiety and depression may also develop as a consequence of impotence.

Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
Commercials for drugs to improve “low T,” or testosterone, the male hormone, are now vying for airtime, but they address desire, not performance. "Male hormone is not an approved treatment for erectile dysfunction," notes Bennett. "It may be used to increase desire in men who have low testosterone, but it doesn’t improve blood flow to an erection." A doctor can do a blood test to check you for low testosterone, but it is a rare cause of ED. Hormone therapy with injections, patches, or gels applied to the skin may improve mood and sex drive, but it likely won’t fix any mechanical issues. Also, testosterone drugs should not be used by men with prostate cancer. Side effects include acne, breast enlargement, prostate enlargement, and fluid retention.
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.
Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology
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).
It is essential to discuss erectile dysfunction with your doctor, so any serious underlying causes can be excluded and treatment options can be discussed. Many men are embarrassed discussing this issue with their doctor, or even their partner. Open communication with your doctor, and in your relationship, is important for effectively managing this common problem.
The physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.

In comparison, 37% of men who had received external radiotherapy as their primary therapy reported the ability to attain functional erections suitable for intercourse, along with 43% of men who had received brachytherapy as primary treatment. Pretreatment sexual health-related quality of life score, age, serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, race or ethnicity, body mass index, and intended treatment details were associated with functional erections 2 years after treatment. [45]

Another study compared the response of surgically and medically castrated rabbits to vardenafil with that of control rabbits. [22] Castrated rabbits did not respond to vardenafil, whereas noncastrated rabbits did respond appropriately. This result suggests that a minimum amount of testosterone is necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to produce an erection.


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.


The penis is composed of three cylinders, two on the top and one on the underside of the penis. The top two cylinders are involved in the erectile process. The urethra, the tube that urine and semen pass through, is on the underside of the penis. The top two penile cylinders, the corpora cavernosa, are composed of tissue that is analogous to a sponge, containing spaces that can fill with blood and expand. These two cylinders are surrounding by a strong layer of tissue, like Saran wrap, the tunica albuginea. For an erection to occur, there must be properly functioning nerves, arteries, veins, and normal penile tissues.
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Intraurethral therapy (Medicated Urethral System for Erections, or MUSE): Alprostadil (PGE1) has been formulated into a small suppository that can be inserted into the urethra (the canal through which urine and semen are excreted). The suppository is preloaded into a small applicator and by placing the applicator into the tip of the penis and compressing the button at the other end of the applicator and wiggling the applicator, the suppository is released into the urethra. Gentle rubbing/massaging of the penis will cause the suppository to dissolve and the medication is absorbed through the urethra and passes into the penis where it stimulates the relaxation of the muscle in the arteries and increases blood flow to the penis. It takes 15 to 30 minutes for this to occur. Success rates in the clinical studies were noted to be about 65%, however lower rates were noted when it started being used in the real world setting. This drug may be effective in men with vascular disease, diabetes, and following prostate surgery. This is a useful alternative for men who do not want to use self-injections or for men in whom oral medications have failed. Few side effects occur. The most common side effect is penile pain, which can vary from minor to uncomfortable. MUSE use has been associated with lowering of the blood pressure and thus it is recommended that the first time using the MUSE be in the physician's office so that you can be monitored. One cannot use lubricants of any type to help with the insertion of the applicator thus to make it easier to insert you should urinate immediately before using the MUSE system as this will lubricate the urethra. A temporary tourniquet is often helpful in allowing the medication to stay in the erectile tissue a little longer and seems to give a somewhat better response.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.
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