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.
Psychological factors — Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of impotence. Doctors now know that physical factors cause impotence in most men with the problem. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse.
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is the inability of a male to attain and keep an erection sufficiently firm to engage in or complete sexual intercourse. Although it is more common in older men, impotence can occur at any age. Impotence is not a normal consequence of aging. About 70% of erectile dysfunction is due to diseases such as diabetes and atherosclerosis, another 10% to 20% is due to psychological factors, and the remaining percentage is related to medications, lifestyle factors, and injury (Source: NIDDK).
If PDE-5 inhibitors are not suitable or don’t work, other therapies include injections into the base of the penis, which cause flow of blood into the penis and a fairly immediate erection that lasts around an hour. The drugs injected are alprostadil (Caverject and Erectile dysfunctionex) and Invicorp (VIP and phentolamine). Alprostadil may also be inserted as a gel into the opening of the penis. This is not suitable if your partner is pregnant.
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.
Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20
Parasympathetic pathways originate from the intermediolateral cell columns of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sacral spinal cord segments. Preganglionic fibers pass through the pelvic plexus where they coalesce with sympathetic fibers from the superior hypogastric plexus. The cavernous nerves that innervate the penis arise from the portion of the pelvic plexus. The pelvic plexus also contains nerves that innervate the rectum, bladder and urinary sphincter and the nerve projections can be damaged during radical excision of the bladder, prostate and rectum, leading to iatrogenic ED (4).

This is one of many types of constricting devices placed at the base of the penis to diminish venous outflow and improve the quality and duration of the erection. This is particularly useful in men who have a venous leak and are only able to obtain partial erections that they are unable to maintain. These constricting devices may be used in conjunction with oral agents, injection therapy, and vacuum devices.

Sildenafil has been previously suggested as a treatment option for ED in men with epilepsy (77,78). However, Matos et al. warned that PDE5i are potentially pro-convulsant and should be used with great caution in men with epilepsy (79). Animal studies in rat and mice overwhelmingly suggest PDE5i can reduce seizure threshold. In human trials, seizures were rare but reported. PDE5i exerted their proconvulsive effect by lower seizure threshold possibly by worsening sleep or obstructive sleep apnea, causing cardiovascular changes, or leading to EEG changes specifically with tadalafil use.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.

Picture of penile tumescence monitor. This penile tumescence monitor is placed at the base and near the corona of the penis. It is connected to a monitor that records a continuous graph depicting the force and duration of erections that occur during sleep. The monitor is strapped to the leg. The nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test is conducted on several nights to obtain an accurate indication of erections that normally occur during the alpha phase of sleep.


Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
Erectile dysfunction is common, increases with age, and is associated with multiple common medical problems. A variety of successful therapies exist for men with erectile dysfunction. The success of the therapies can vary with the cause of the erectile dysfunction. A stepwise approach to the treatment of ED allows one to identify the therapy that is effective and the least invasive for the individual. Oral therapy remains the first line medical therapy for ED, however, is effective overall in 40%-80% of individuals. For those individuals who cannot take PDE5 inhibitors or fail from an efficacy or side effect standpoint, a number of alternatives exist. Intracavernous injection therapy is the most effective therapy for ED, however, the invasive nature can affect compliance. Penile prosthesis is a highly effective surgical procedure, but men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis should be aware of the benefits and risks associated with placement of a penile prosthesis. Other surgical therapies, such as arterial surgery, are rarely needed.
PD is a chronic neurodegenerative disease characterized by “motor” and “non-motor” symptoms that lead to progressive disability. Erectile and SD are “non-motor” symptoms and can occur in 50–69% of males with PD (39-42). Ejaculatory and orgasmic function are also impaired. PD affects the dopaminergic pathways leading to erection and arousal. Dopaminergic therapy for PD can improve ED, and sometimes therapy may lead to hypersexuality (43,44). A comparison of married men with PD to age matched controls with non-neurologic chronic disease such as arthritis did not show any discrepancy in ED rates (45). This suggests that ED in certain groups with PD may occur from disease related factors common in chronic illness, in general.

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
Similar to heart-disease-related to atherosclerosis (plaque formation within the blood vessels), the concept of bypassing or angiographically dilating and stenting penile arteries has been entertained recently with improvements in microvascular surgery and interventional radiology. However, the main drawback with most erectile dysfunction is the failure of vascular relaxation within the corpora cavernosa rather than the one feeding penile artery. Stenting or surgical grafting to bypass a blockage would be ideal for a single obstruction site along a penile artery. Because most erectile dysfunction pathology resides within the sponge-like vascular plexus of the penis, the ability of diffusely dilating and expanding the many vascular chambers of the penis is difficult to impossible. As such, unless the situation is that the penile artery was injured during a pelvic trauma, and the potential to bypass another vessel into the single penile artery, the concept of vascular reconstruction or angio-radiology stenting has very low yield.
MedlinePlus : 43 Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common type of male sexual dysfunction. It is when a man has trouble getting or keeping an erection. ED becomes more common as you get older. But it's not a natural part of aging. Some people have trouble speaking with their doctors about sex. But if you have ED, you should tell your doctor. ED can be a sign of health problems. It may mean your blood vessels are clogged. It may mean you have nerve damage from diabetes. If you don't see your doctor, these problems will go untreated. Your doctor can offer several new treatments for ED. For many men, the answer is as simple as taking a pill. Getting more exercise, losing weight, or stopping smoking may also help. NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
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.

A common and important cause of ED is vasculogenic. Many men with ED have comorbid conditions such as hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, tobacco abuse, diabetes mellitus, or coronary artery disease (CAD). [6] The Princeton III Consensus recommends screening men who present with ED for cardiovascular risk factors; ED may be the earliest presentation of atherosclerosis and vascular disease. [7]

In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.

×