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Implantable penile prostheses are usually considered a last resort for treating impotence. They are implanted in the corpora cavernosa to make the penis rigid without the need for blood flow. The semirigid type of prosthesis consists of a pair of flexible silicone rods that can be bent up or down. This type of device has a low failure rate but, unfortunately, it causes the penis to always be erect, which can be difficult to conceal under clothing.
In order to establish whether normal erections are occurring overnight (nocturnal erections), the doctor may organise nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) testing. This involves wearing a monitor overnight in your own home. The data from this monitor is then assessed to analyse how often erections occurred, how long they lasted, and how rigid and large the penis was during the erections. If NPT testing is normal, the cause of erectile dysfunction is usually psychological. If not, further testing of the blood flow in the genital area may be required to see if there is blockage or leakage. The doctor may also organise a blood test of levels of hormones such as testosterone, prolactin and thyroid stimulating hormone to see if these are contributing to the erectile dysfunction.
Sure, this condition might be common – but isn’t erectile dysfunction a problem that only middle and senior-aged men get? It is true that erectile problems are common in older men. It often happens due to lower levels of testosterone and reduced blood flow to the penis. But this study showed that a quarter of all men under the age of 40 experience erectile dysfunction of some kind!
Viagra and Cialis, despite their aggressive marketing, are not the ideal treatment for men with psychological impotence. Rather, they are designed to treat physical erectile dysfunction that is rooted in blood flow malfunction. For the man with psychological ED, taking a pill may not work properly because they’re not tackling the psychological causes of the problem.
The pathogenesis of organic ED is related to dysfunction of the endothelium. Endothelial cells can become injured through a variety of mechanisms, most of which cause oxidative stress on the tissues. Many of these causes of oxidative stress are related to lifestyle issues which lead to hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidaemia (figure 1). Endothelial cell dysfunction results in reduction of endothelium-dependent vasorelaxation as well as increased adhesion of leukocytes to the endothelium. Endothelial cell injury then leads to a variety of sequelae, including ED, other types of vasoconstriction, atherosclerosis and thrombus formation.18
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.
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.
Phosphodiesterase type V inhibitors (PDE-5 inhibitors) are the most commonly used therapy for erectile dysfunction. These medications work by preventing the breakdown of chemicals that stimulate increased blood flow into the penis. Several different PDE-5 inhibitors are available, which differ slightly in how to use them and their side effects. They appear to be equally effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in general, but some individuals may respond to one of these medications more effectively than another.
ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
In some cases, nocturnal penile tumescence testing is performed to find out whether the man has erections while asleep. Healthy men usually have about four or five erections throughout the night. The man applies a device to the penis called a Rigiscan before going to bed at night, and the device can determine whether he has had erections. (If a man is able to have normal erections at night, this suggests a psychological cause for his impotence.)
Patients receiving penile prostheses should be instructed in the operation of the prosthesis before surgery and again in the postoperative period. The prosthesis usually is not activated until approximately 6 weeks after surgery, so as to allow the edema and pain to subside. The prosthesis is checked in the office before the patient begins to use it.
In a randomized double-blind, parallel, placebo-controlled trial, sildenafil plus testosterone was not superior to sildenafil plus placebo in improving erectile function in men with ED and low testosterone levels.  The objective of the study was to determine whether the addition of testosterone to sildenafil therapy improves erectile response in men with ED and low testosterone levels.
Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.