The Latin term impotentia coeundi describes simple inability to insert the penis into the vagina; it is now mostly replaced by more precise terms, such as erectile dysfunction (ED). The study of ED within medicine is covered by andrology, a sub-field within urology. Research indicates that ED is common, and it is suggested that approximately 40% of males experience symptoms compatible with ED, at least occasionally. The condition is also on occasion called phallic impotence. Its antonym, or opposite condition, is priapism.
The FDA recommends that men follow general precautions before taking a medication for ED. Men who are taking medications that contain nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, should NOT use these medications. Taking nitrates with one of these medications can lower blood pressure too much. In addition, men who take tadalafil or vardenfil should use alpha blockers with care and only as instructed by their physician, as they could result in hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure). Experts recommend that men have a complete medical history and physical examination to determine the cause of ED. Men should tell their doctor about all the medications they are taking, including over-the-counter medications.
Injection therapy involves injecting a substance into the penis to enhance blood flow and cause an erection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called alprostadil (Caverject) for this purpose in July of 1995. Alprostadil relaxes smooth muscle tissue to enhance blood flow into the penis. It must be injected shortly before intercourse. Another, similar drug that is sometimes used is papaverine—not yet been approved by the FDA for this use. Either drug may sometimes cause painful erections or priapism (uncomfortable, prolonged erections) that must be treated with a shot of epinephrine.
Penile implants - are generally used if physical damage (like an accident) makes the anatomical parts needed for an erection not work. These are inserted by surgery and can provide a permanent treatment choice if others fail to work. The implants can be semi-rigid or inflatable. They can be pretty expensive and are not usually available on the NHS.
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.
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.
The device consists of an acrylic cylinder placed over the penis that uses a lubricant to achieve a good seal between the penile body and cylinder. An erection is then achieved by creating a vacuum inside the cylinder with a pump connected to the cylinder. Once an erection is achieved, a constriction band is applied to the base of the penis to maintain the erection. The cylinder can then be removed and the patient can engage in intercourse with the constriction band at the base of the penis maintaining the erection. The band can remain on for approximately 30 minutes and then must be removed. The erection produced by the device differs from a normal erection likely because of venous occlusion from the constriction band resulting in generalized swelling of the entire penis, with probable preservation of arterial inflow.
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.
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.
Of particularly concern are antihypertensive medications for CVD (eg, digoxin, disopyramide [Norpace], gemfibrozil [Lopid]), anxiety, depression (eg, lithium, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants), or psychosis (eg, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, pimozide [Orap], thioridazine, thiothixene). Antihypertensive drugs, such as diuretics (eg, spironolactone, thiazides) and beta blockers, may be associated with ED. Discontinuation or switching to alternative drugs, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or calcium channel blockers (eg, diltiazem, nifedipine, amlodipine), may reduce ED. The newer angiotensin II receptor antagonists may be less problematic with respect to ED, but long-term data is needed to evaluate this.
Penile injection therapy, intracavernous injection, involves the injection of a vasodilator (a chemical that relaxes arteries to increase blood flow) into the penis. Penile injected therapy is recognized as the most effective nonsurgical treatment for erectile dysfunction. However, due to the invasive nature, it is often used in men who have failed or have contraindications to other treatments such as oral therapies.
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.
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.
The main surgical treatment of ED involves insertion of a penile implant (also called penile prostheses). Because penile vascular surgery is not recommended for aging males who have failed oral PDE5 inhibitors, ICI or IU therapies, implants are the next step for these patients. Although placement of a penile implant is a surgery which carries risks, they have the highest rates of success and satisfaction among ED treatment options.