(ED; Erectile Dysfunction; Male Erectile Disorder)
Impotence is the inability to attain or maintain an erection of the penis that is firm enough for sexual intercourse.
To initiate and maintain an erection, the penis must fill with blood. Nerve signals cause the blood to flow there. The blood vessels expand so blood can fill it. Meanwhile, other blood vessels constrict, trapping blood inside.
The following factors can cause erectile dysfunction:
A leak in the blood vessels in the penis can allow blood to escape. This means that an erection cannot be made or may not last long. Injury or disease can cause a venous leak.
- Problems with nerve signals and blood flow
- Nerve dysfunction—can reduce feeling in the penis, resulting in impotence
- Diabetes]]> —interferes with nerve signals
- Complete loss of nighttime erections
- ]]>Hardening of the arteries]]> —can cause reduced blood flow
- ]]>Peripheral neuropathy]]> , spinal cord injury, and surgery—can damage nerves
- Side-effects from medications
Blood Vessels and Nerves of Male Pelvis
The brain causes many of the nerve signals needed for an erection. Emotional problems may play a role in men who suddenly develop impotence.
These factors increase your chance of developing impotence. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
- Age: 65 and older
- Race: Hispanic
- Hardening of arteries
- ]]>Chronic kidney disease]]>
- Liver failure
- Peyronie's disease (bending of the penis caused by scar tissue)
- Endocrine disorders
- Neurological disorders (eg, ]]>multiple sclerosis]]> , ]]>peripheral neuropathy]]> , ]]>stroke]]> )
- Psychiatric disorders (eg, ]]>anxiety]]> , ]]>depression]]> )
- Vascular surgery
- Pelvic surgeries (particularly for ]]>prostate cancer]]> )
- Spinal cord injury
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Expect questions about the frequency, quality, and duration of your erections. Your answers may help the diagnosis.
The doctor will examine your penis, testes, and rectum. If a physical cause is suspected, you will need lab tests, including:
- Hormone levels such as thyroid function tests
- Prolactin levels
- Testosterone levels
Nocturnal Penile Tumescence Testing
This test can help your doctor determine if the cause is due to emotional problems or physical problems.
Sometimes Doppler]]> imaging may be done to look at the blood flow. The test is also done to check for blockage in the arteries or veins that supply the penis.
Treatment options include:
Your doctor may prescribe:
- Phosphodiesterase inhibitors, such as:
- Oral ]]>testosterone]]> , if you have low testosterone levels
- ]]>Alprostadil]]> , either injected into the penis or inserted into the urethra as a suppository
Use caution and talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medicines for impotence. Some of them may be unsafe. ]]>*¹]]>
- Plastic cylinder for the penis
- Hand pump for pumping air out of the cylinder
- Elastic band for holding the erection after removal of the cylinder
Vascular surgery repairs venous leaks. This has been shown to be effective in some cases.
There are semi-rigid, malleable, and inflatable implants. They are surgically inserted into the penis.
Sex therapy may help impotence resulting from:
- Ineffective sexual techniques
- Relationship problems
To reduce your chance of becoming impotent:
- Take medications to manage blood pressure]]> , diabetes, or depression.
- Ask your doctor about changing medications.
- Maintain a ]]>healthy weight]]> .
- Eat a ]]>healthful diet]]> .
- If you smoke, ]]>quit]]> . Smoking is significantly associated with impotence in middle-aged and older men.
- Talk to a ]]>therapist]]> or counselor.
American Urological Association
Canadian Urological Association
Erectile dysfunction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated July 2008. Accessed July 7, 2008
Erectile dysfunction. Familydoctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/men/reproductive/109.html . Updated December 2006. Accessed July 7, 2008
Erectile dysfunction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/impotence/ . Published December 2005. Accessed July 7, 2008
Non-surgical management of erectile dysfunction (ED). UrologyHealth.org website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/adult/index.cfm?cat=11topic=174 . Accessed July 7, 2008
Last reviewed July 2010 by ]]>Adrienne Carmack, MD]]>
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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