In the Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) among a community-based survey of men aged 40-70 years, 52% of the men reported some degree of erectile difficulty. Complete ED, defined as the total inability to obtain or maintain suitable erections during sexual stimulation, as well as the absence of nocturnal erections (normal erections [four to six/night], which occur during sleep), occurred in 10% of the men in the study. Lesser degrees of mild and moderate ED occurred in 17% and 25% of participants.
For many of the 30 million Americans affected by erectile dysfunction, Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are the first line of ED treatment — and they’re successful for about 80 percent of men. These drugs, called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors, are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and work by increasing blood flow to an erection. Common side effects include nasal congestion and headache. Note: If you take nitroglycerin pills for heart disease, you won’t be able to take ED pills, as they can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. In general, exercise, particularly of the aerobic type, is effective for preventing ED during midlife. Exercise as a treatment is under investigation.:6, 18–19 For tobacco smokers, cessation often results in a significant improvement. Oral pharmacotherapy and vacuum erection devices are first-line treatments,:20, 24 followed by injections of drugs into the penis, as well as penile implants.:25–26 Vascular reconstructive surgeries are beneficial in certain groups.
Injections are most likely to restore testosterone levels, but this therapy requires periodic injections, usually every two to four weeks, to sustain an effective level. As such, it is less ideal for patients to depend on frequent medical visits for long-duration therapy. Coupled with injection-related pain, hematoma formation, and inconvenience, the serum blood levels of testosterone are also variable. Injection therapy should not be used in men who wish to father children due to the abnormally high levels of testosterone that occur initially after the injection.
Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, curtailing excessive alcohol consumption, controlling hypertension, and optimizing blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes are not only important for maintaining good health but also may improve or even prevent progression of erectile dysfunction. It is unclear if such lifestyle changes can reverse erectile dysfunction. However, lifestyle improvements may prevent progression of the erectile dysfunction. Some studies suggest that men who have made lifestyle improvements experience increased rates of success with oral medications.
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.
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.