Induction of erection occurs after stimulation of the cavernous and pelvic nerve plexus. Conversely, stimulation of the sympathetic trunk leads to detumescence. The reflex erectile response requires that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. Tactile and sensory signals are received by the somatic sensory pathways and integrate with parasympathetic nuclei within the sacral spinal cord (S2-4) leading to induction of erection via cholinergic signaling. These reflexogenic erections remain intact with upper motor neuron injuries. Psychogenic erections do not require that the sacral reflex arc remain intact. In a cat models, spinal cord removal below L4/L5 led to absence of a reflexogenic erection but stimulation of the medial preoptic area (MPOA) or placement near a female cat in heat led to erection (5,6). Psychogenic erections occur via induction of central pathways traveling from the brain through the sympathetic chain. Non-penile sensory pathways induced by sight, sound, touch and smell travel through the MPOA to the erection centers within the cord T11-L2, and S2-S4 to induce erections (7). When a sacral lower motor neuron injury is present in men, below T12 these types of erections are more likely to occur (8). Spinal cord lesions above T9 are not associated with psychogenic erections (9). Rigidity of erections is less with psychogenic erections because the thoracolumbar sympathetic outflow may contain a decreased concentration of neurons compared to the parasympathetic outflow from the sacral spinal cord.
One study by Palmer and colleagues evaluated sildenafil use in SB males with thoracic lesions (76). A prospective, blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation, crossover study in 17 patients with SB and ED was performed. All study participates took sets of tablet in groups, two sets of placebo, one of 25 mg, and the last 50 mg. Overall response to the tablet sets was measured by IIEF response and self-report of erectile rigidity. Patients reported that taking 50 mg of sildenafil led to improved erections, duration of erections, frequency of erections and level of confidence compared to sildenafil 25 mg and more significantly compared to placebo. Of the five patients who reported side effects, two experienced mild hematological changes that reverted to baseline after study completion.
A number of herbs have been promoted for treating impotence. The most widely touted herbs for this purpose are Coryanthe yohimbe (available by prescription as yohimbine, with the trade name Yocon) and gingko (Gingko biloba), although neither has been conclusively shown to help the condition in controlled studies. In addition, gingko carries some risk of abnormal blood clotting and should be avoided by men taking blood thinners such as coumadin. Other herbs promoted for treating impotence include true unicorn root (Aletrius farinosa), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus). Strychnos Nux vomica has been recommended, especially when impotence is caused by excessive alcohol, cigarettes, or dietary indiscretions, but it can be very toxic if taken improperly, so it should be used only under the strict supervision of a physician trained in its use.
Finally, gene therapy and stem cell research has widened the frontier of ED treatment proposed as possibility to even reverse ED. Specifically, gene therapy pertains to repairing the cause of ED by restoring defective gene function and/or altering the expression of the mutant gene (32). Most of the available data on gene therapy are in the animal model. However, a phase I clinical trial in men with ED undergoing intracavernous injection with a DNA plasmid carrying the alpha-subunit of the corporal smooth muscle Maxi-K channel showed promise in increased erectile function based on IIEF assessment sustained throughout the 3-month study period (122).
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.
In general, PDE5i works successfully in about 65%-70% of all men with erectile dysfunction (impotence). The greater the degree of damage to the normal erection mechanism and severity of the ED, the lower the overall success rate. Men with diabetes and those with spinal cord injury reported between 50%-60% responding successfully to treatment with oral PDE5i medications. The lowest success rate has been in men who developed ED (impotence) after prostate cancer surgery (radical prostatectomy) for more advanced prostate cancer that required removal of both sets of nerves around the prostate. In men who did not have the nerves removed/damage, there is a better chance of response to PDE5 inhibitors.
The other 5 percent of prostheses are either pump devices in which the saline is permanently in the prosthesis, not in a separate reservoir (urologists may recommend this for men who have had multiple surgeries); or a pair of semi-rigid, malleable rods implanted in the penis, which render it hard at all times. The patient manually shifts the penis into an erect position for sex.
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.
Several medications can interfere with the chemical processing of PDE5i medications by the liver. These can include ketoconazole (an antifungal medication known by the brand name Nizoral), erythromycin (an antibiotic), and cimetidine (also known as Tagamet, for reducing stomach acid). A lower dose of PDE5i medications should be used if one is taking any of these medications.
Exercise and lifestyle modifications may improve erectile function. Weight loss may help by decreasing inflammation, increasing testosterone, and improving self-esteem. Patients should be educated to increase activity, reduce weight, and stop smoking, as these efforts can improve or restore erectile function in men without comorbidities. Precise glycemic control in diabetic patients and pharmacologic treatment of hypertension may be important in preventing or reducing sexual dysfunction. 
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.
Normal erectile function depends on the release of NO and endothelial-dependent vasodilation of the penile arteries. The ‘artery size’ hypothesis, first described by Dr Montorsi, offers an explanation why men are more likely to develop ED before a myocardial infacrtion. It is believed that atherosclerosis affects all vascular beds equally but smaller arteries are more likely to become occluded than larger arteries.31 32 The penile arteries are 1–2 mm while the coronary arteries are 3–4 mm. Thus, the same degree of endothelial dysfunction and atherosclerosis is more likely to occlude blood flow in the penile arteries compared with the coronary arteries. The penile arteries therefore serve as a sensitive indicator for subsequent CVD. This theory is supported by the fact that ED occurs approximately 3 years prior to cardiac symptoms in virtually all patients with chronic coronary syndrome whereas patients with acute coronary syndrome have a much lower prevalence of sexual dysfunction.32
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.
In rare cases, the drug Viagra ® can cause blue-green shading to vision that lasts for a short time. In rare cases, the drug Cialis® can cause or increase back pain or aching muscles in the back. In most cases, the side effects are linked to PDE5 inhibitor effects on other tissues in the body, meaning they are working to increase blood flow to your penis and at the same time impacting other vascular tissues in your body. These are not ‘allergic reactions'.