Arterial vascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of ED in men older than 50 years of age. Arterial vascular disease includes atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the walls of arteries, also called hardening of the arteries), which may affect the heart (history of heart attacks, angina, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarct) or blood vessels in the legs, peripheral vascular disease (problems with blood circulation to the legs), as well as other areas of the body including blood vessels supplying blood to the penis and high blood pressure. Prolonged tobacco use (smoking) is considered an important risk factor for ED because it is associated with poor circulation and reduced blood flow in the penis. This is related to microvascular damage (stiffening of the artery as well as smaller caliber vessel size secondary to endovascular atherosclerotic plaques).
Years ago, the standard treatment for impotence was an implantable penile prosthesis or long-term psychotherapy. Although physical causes are now more readily diagnosed and treated, individual or marital counseling is still an effective treatment for impotence when emotional factors play a role. Fortunately, other approaches are now available to treat the physical causes of impotence.
As men age they require more stimulation up front to get and maintain an erection firm enough for sex. Engaging in some foreplay either on you or on your partner is a great way to get your arousal levels up and get an erection that is firm enough for sex. Many men begin to rush the process of sex once they experience ED. They worry that they will lose their erection so they rush rather than go slow understanding that rushing will only make the problem worse.
With drug therapy, there’s a risk of side effects such as headaches, back pain or an upset stomach. Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction it is important to ensure your doctor is ok with that decision. Medication may not work for all men, for instance, if you have diabetes or have previously had prostate surgery. ED medication might also have serious risks if you’re currently taking nitrates (commonly prescribed for chest pain), have heart disease or have low blood pressure.22
Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure.
A physical cause can be identified in about 80% of cases. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, neurological problems such as following prostatectomy, hypogonadism, and drug side effects. Psychological impotence is where erection or penetration fails due to thoughts or feelings; this is somewhat less frequent, in the order of about 10% of cases. In psychological impotence, there is a strong response to placebo treatment.
High cholesterol and triglyceride levels increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Getting your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in an optimal range will help protect your heart and blood vessels. Cholesterol management may include lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) as well as medications to get your total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides in an optimal range.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and health history. They may do tests to determine if your symptoms are caused by an underlying condition. You should expect a physical exam where your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs, check your blood pressure, and examine your testicles and penis. They may also recommend a rectal exam to check your prostate. Additionally, you may need blood or urine tests to rule out other conditions.
Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician now understand that many older men retain an interest in sexual activity as they age. Some primary care physicians think that sexual potency in older men is the norm, and that if it is lacking, it is ‘all in the head.’ This viewpoint has not been supported by current literature. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) found that 52% of men between 40 and 70 years old reported having some form of erectile dysfunction (ED).1 The reality is that ED is a natural part of ageing and that the prevalence increases with age. In the MMAS, they found that roughly 50% of men at 50 years old, 60% of men at 60 years old and 70% of men at 70 years old had ED. Thus, nearly all men who live long enough should develop ED. The myths that surround the problems of impotence or ED confound the attempts of patients to receive treatment and the attempts of physicians to help them.1
The association between low testosterone and ED is not entirely clear. Although these 2 processes certainly overlap in some instances, they are distinct entities. Some 2-21% of men have both hypogonadism and ED; however, it is unclear to what degree treating the former will improve erectile function.  About 35-40% of men with low testosterone see an improvement in their erections with testosterone replacement; however, almost 65% of these men see no improvement. 
The various PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of ED share several common side effects, including headache, flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, dyspepsia (stomach discomfort), and diarrhea. Differences exist in side effects of the different PDE5 inhibitors, and thus it is important to be familiar with the prescribing information of the PDE5 inhibitor you are prescribed.
In their extensive review, Bassil and coworkers summarise the benefits and risks, with benefits such as improvement of sexual function, bone density, muscle strength, cognition and overall improvement in quality of life. Among the risks that have been suggested include erythrocytosis, liver toxicity, worsening of sleep apnoea and cardiac function, possibly increasing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). They also note that although a possibility of stimulation of prostate cancer has been hypothesised, no scientific or clinical evidence exists to this possible risk.38
VED involved placing the penis in a clear plastic tube where negative pressure created by the vacuum pump leads to penile engorgement and tumescence. Usually a constriction ring can be placed on the base of penis following penile engorgement. Some men complain of bruising, a “cold” penis and pain associated with the constriction ring; however, in some men with NED sensation may not be intact mitigating the side effects of VEDs. VEDs have reported effectiveness up to 90% in certain ED populations and it remains a non-invasive means to achieve and erection.
Other medical therapies under evaluation include ROCK inhibitors and soluble guanyl cyclase activators. Melanocortin receptor agonists are a new set of medications being developed in the field of erectile dysfunction. Their action is on the nervous system rather than the vascular system. PT-141 is a nasal preparation that appears to be effective alone or in combination with PDE5 inhibitors. The main side effects include flushing and nausea. These drugs are currently not approved for commercial use.
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.
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The dorsal artery provides for engorgement of the glans during erection, whereas the bulbourethral artery supplies the bulb and the corpus spongiosum. The cavernous artery effects tumescence of the corpus cavernosum and thus is principally responsible for erection. The cavernous artery gives off many helicine arteries, which supply the trabecular erectile tissue and the sinusoids. These helicine arteries are contracted and tortuous in the flaccid state and become dilated and straight during erection. 
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.
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
Oral phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5 inhibitors) unless contraindicated are the recommended first line medical therapy for erectile dysfunction. Currently, there are four different PDE5 inhibitors available. They all work the same way and have essentially the same results. They differ in how long they last in your body and in side effects.
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
Erections occur in response to tactile, olfactory, and visual stimuli. The ability to achieve and maintain a full erection depends not only on the penile portion of the process but also on the status of the peripheral nerves, the integrity of the vascular supply, and biochemical events within the corpora. The autonomic nervous system is involved in erection, orgasm, and tumescence. The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily involved in sustaining and maintaining an erection, which is derived from S2-S4 nerve roots.
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.