Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction or ED, is a condition in which a man is unable to get or hold an erection long enough to have a satisfactory sex life. Impotence is a common problem, affecting up to half of Australian men between the ages of 40 and 70 years. The risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases as you get older.In the past, doctors considered impotence to be a mainly psychological problem, caused by performance anxiety or stress. Now, doctors know that many cases of impotence have a physical cause, which usually can be treated. Often, a combination of physical and psychological factors contributes to erectile dysfunction.Physical causes of impotencePhysical causes of impotence can include:problems with blood to flow into and out of the penis;damage to the nerves that send signals from the body’s central nervous system to the penis; and, more rarely,a deficiency in testosterone or other hormones.Some medicines can contribute to impotence, as can some types of surgery and radiotherapy treatments.Blocked blood vessels to the penisA very common cause of impotence is when blood flow into the penis is reduced. This can be due to atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. In atherosclerosis, the arteries are clogged and narrowed, resulting in reduced blood flow.Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:high cholesterol;high blood pressure;obesity;sleep apnoea;diabetes; andsmoking.If your erection problems are caused by atherosclerosis, there is a chance that the arteries in other parts of your body (e.g. the coronary arteries that supply your heart) are also affected by atherosclerosis. In fact, erection problems may be the first sign that you are at risk of coronary heart disease.Because the arteries to the penis are narrower than those to the heart, you may develop symptoms of erectile dysfunction before you experience any symptoms of heart disease, such as angina. So seeing your doctor about erection problems may be important for your overall physical health.Impotence can also be caused by a blood clot that prevents enough blood from flowing into the penis to cause an erection.Venous leakageIn some men, blood can flow in to the penis easily, but the problem is that it leaks out again, so an erection cannot be sustained. This is called venous leakage. Doctors aren’t certain of the cause of venous leakage, but they can perform surgery to help repair it.Medicines that can cause impotenceMany medicines can cause erection problems as a side effect, including:diuretics (sometimes known as ‘water tablets’ - often used for high blood pressure);high blood pressure medications;cholesterol-lowering medicines (including statins);some types of antipsychotics;antidepressants;cancer treatments;some medicines used to treat heartburn and stomach ulcers;antihistamines;some pain medicines; andcertain epilepsy medications.If you experience impotence after starting a new medication, tell your doctor, who may be able to prescribe a different medicine for you. Don’t stop taking a medicine without first consulting your doctor. You should also tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines or complementary remedies you may be taking.The following table contains a list of specific medicines that may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction. This list may not cover all types of medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction, so always ask your doctor if you are in doubt. Also, for some of these medicines ED is a very rare side effect. Most men taking these medicines do not experience erectile dysfunction.Medicines that may cause erectile dysfunctionType of medicineExamplesACE inhibitorscaptopril (Capoten), enalapril (Renitec), perindopril (Perindo), ramipril (Tritace), and othersAntidepressantsamitriptyline (Endep), clomipramine (Anafranil), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Aropax), sertraline (Zoloft), venlafaxine (Altven, Efexor), and othersAnti-epilepticsclonazepam (Rivotril), pregabalin (Lyrica)Antifungalsitraconazole (Sporanox)Anti-ulcer drugscimetidine (Magicul), nizatidine (Tazac), ranitidine (Zantac), and othersBeta-blockerspropranolol (Inderal), metoprolol (Betaloc, Lopresor), and othersOther blood pressure-lowering medicinesclonidine (Catapres), lercanidipine/enalapril (Zan-Extra), losartan (Cozaar), perindopril/amlodipine (Coveram), olmesartan/amlodipine (Sevikar), telmisartan/amlodipine (Twynsta), valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide (Co-Diovan)Calcium-channel blockersdiltiazem (Cardizem), felodipine (Plendil), nifedipine (Adalat)Cholesterol-lowering drugsatorvastatin (Lipitor), ezetimibe/simvastatin (Vytorin), fluvastatin (Lescol, Vastin), gemfibrozil (Ausgem), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (APO-simvastatin, Lipex, Zocor), and othersDiuretics ('water tablets')bumetanide (Burinex), chlorthalidone (Hygroton), spironolactone (Aldactone), and othersSchizophrenia drugsamisulpride (Solian, Sulprix), haloperidol (Haldol, Serenace), olanzapine (Lanzek, Ozin, Zypine, Zyprexa), paliperidone (Invega), risperidone (Rispa, Risperdal), ziprasidone (Zeldox)Combination cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensiveamlodipine/atorvastatin (Caduet, Cadatin)Pain medicinesfentanyl (Denpax, Durogesic), hydromorphone (Jurnista), morphine (Momex SR, MS Contin), oxycodone (OxyContin, OxyNorm, Targin), tramadolMiscellaneousoestrogens, antiandrogens, anticancer drugs and some chemotherapy treatments, baclofen (Clofen, Lioresal); cyproterone (Androcur, Cyprohexal, Cyprostat), degarelix (Firmagon), etoricoxib (Arcoxia), finasteride (Proscar and Propecia), flutamide (Flutamin), rotigotine (Neupro), triptorelin (Diphereline)*The names in brackets are just some examples of the trade names each specific medicine is marketed under in Australia. The medicine may also be known by other trade names.Diabetes and erectile dysfunctionMen who have diabetes have a higher risk of developing impotence than other men. Diabetes contributes to impotence because it can damage blood vessels and cause a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy.Hormones and impotenceLow levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are more commonly linked to a lowered sex drive, rather than impotence itself. Only a small percentage of cases of impotence are caused by hormone deficiency.Low testosterone levels may be the result of a condition called hypogonadism, in which the testicles don’t produce enough testosterone. More rarely, low testosterone can be caused by the pituitary (a small gland at the base of the brain) not secreting sufficient hormones to stimulate the testes to produce testosterone. The pituitary is also sometimes affected by small benign (non-cancerous) tumours that secrete prolactin, another hormone that can cause impotence.Mildly decreased levels of testosterone are often not due to specific testicular or pituitary problems, but rather stress or depression. In this situation, testosterone replacement is rarely of any benefit.Other hormone problems, including thyroid disease, can also cause impotence.Prostate cancer and erectile dysfunctionThe advanced stages of prostate cancer can affect the nerves and arteries that are vital for an erection.Radiation treatment for prostate cancer can harm the erectile tissues of the penis, and prostate cancer surgery can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis.Treatment for advanced prostate cancer often includes medicines that counteract testosterone, and commonly cause erectile dysfunction as well as loss of sexual interest.Peyronie’s diseasePeyronie’s disease is an uncommon condition that affects a man’s sex life because his penis curves abnormally and causes pain when he has an erection. He might also be unable to have a hard erection. The curvature of the penis is caused by a scar, called a plaque, that forms in the penis.Other physical causes of impotenceSeveral other factors and conditions can contribute to erectile dysfunction, including the following.Depression. Many men find that when they’re suffering from depression, they lose interest in sex and can’t get or keep an erection. Asking your doctor for treatments for depression may help alleviate your erection problems as well.Smoking contributes to vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels), so it can contribute to erectile dysfunction by affecting blood flow to the penis. Giving up smoking often has a beneficial effect on erectile function.Excessive alcohol use. Alcoholism can cause permanent nerve damage, resulting in impotence. This nerve damage is called peripheral neuropathy. Long-term alcohol use can impair the liver’s ability to function, resulting in a hormone imbalance in which a man has too much of the female sex hormone, oestrogen. On a day-to-day level, alcohol dulls the central nervous system, adversely affecting sexual response.Illicit drug use. Illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and amphetamines act on the central nervous system, impairing the body’s ability to respond sexually.Certain exercises. Nerve and artery damage can be caused by prolonged cycling, rodeo riding, or use of a rowing machine, resulting in the inability to get an erection. Often, minimising the use of hard bicycle seats and exercise machine seats, as well as correct positioning of the seat, will help restore sexual function.Surgery to organs near the nerve pathways of the penis, such as the bladder, rectum and prostate, can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis, resulting in the inability to have an erection.Injuries. Impotence can be caused by spinal cord injury; injury to your sex organs; or a pelvic fracture, which can cause damage to the nerves of the penis, or damage the blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood flow to the penis.Conditions affecting the nervous system. Multiple sclerosis (MS) and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, can damage the nerves involved in erections.Psychological causes of impotenceMost cases of impotence have physical causes, but, in some men, psychological factors are the main contributors to impotence.Impotence that’s triggered by psychological factors is more common in men who are sexually inexperienced. Psychological erectile dysfunction may only occur when you’re with just one particular person. You’re also more likely to have morning erections, and be able to have an erection when you masturbate, than men whose impotence has a physical cause.Here are some psychological factors that can have an impact on your erections.Stress and anxietyWhen you’re stressed and focusing on other issues apart from sex, you might find that you don’t want to have sex as often and there might be a drop in your ability to perform when you do try. You might find that tackling the source of your stress can have benefits in the bedroom as well.Fear of failureAnxiety about your sexual prowess (commonly called performance anxiety) can, in itself, contribute to failure. By putting pressure on yourself, you become too anxious to get an adequate erection.Most men experience isolated episodes of erectile failure. Even when the transient physical cause has passed, anxiety that it may recur is sufficient to prevent erection. Anxiety, whether about something specifically sexual or part of a wider anxiety syndrome, is never helpful to good sexual function.Problems with your relationship and impotenceImpotence may be a manifestation of a poor relationship, or a problematic time in a relationship. Sexual boredom, tension or anger among partners, and lack of intimacy and communication are all possible triggers of erectile dysfunction. In these cases, seeing a counsellor may help.It’s worth remembering that impotence is a complex medical condition, which may have more than one cause. For example, if impotence is the result of a side effect of medicine or an underlying disease, the anxiety caused by lack of performance may perpetuate the erectile dysfunction even after the physical cause has been dealt with.Almost any chronic (ongoing) physical or mental health disorder, including those with no direct effect on penile nerves or blood supply, can have a powerful effect on sexuality, sexual self-image and erectile function.If you’re worried about your sexual response or the quality of your erections, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, who has access to treatments that can help. Last Reviewed: 16 December 2016
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Psychotherapy, marital counseling, or sex therapy may be helpful in treating cases of impotence that have psychological or emotional causes. A range of other treatments exists for cases of impotence that arise from purely physiological causes. These treatments include vacuum devices, penile injections, and penile implants. These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form. This drug works by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that, upon sexual stimulation, is normally released to widen the blood vessels supplying the penis. The increased flow of blood through those vessels into certain tissues in the penis causes an erection. See also sexual dysfunction.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.

Diabetes is a well-recognized risk factor for ED. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that the prevalence of ED was 37.5% in type 1 diabetes, 66.3% in type 2 diabetes, and 52.5% in diabetes overall—a rate approximately 3.5 times higher than that in controls. [39]  The etiology of ED in diabetic men probably involves both vascular and neurogenic mechanisms. Evidence indicates that establishing good glycemic control can minimize this risk.

The dorsal artery provides for engorgement of the glans during erection, whereas the bulbourethral artery supplies the bulb and the corpus spongiosum. The cavernous artery effects tumescence of the corpus cavernosum and thus is principally responsible for erection. The cavernous artery gives off many helicine arteries, which supply the trabecular erectile tissue and the sinusoids. These helicine arteries are contracted and tortuous in the flaccid state and become dilated and straight during erection. [9]


ED occurs in up to 70% of men with MS, and MS is one of the most prevalent neurological disorders that affect the younger adult population worldwide (33-35). The mean time for SD and ED to develop is about 9 years and is rarely a presenting symptom of MS (36). Men with MS and ED may continue to have nocturnal erections, and psychogenic erections; however, this does not mean they have psychogenic ED but could be an indicator that MS involves the spinal cord (37).
The phrase “use it before you lose it” can be applied when it comes to helping men with ED regain normal erectile function. Pelvic exercises, more commonly known as kegel exercises, are used to promote urinary continence and sexual health. They help to strengthen the bulbocavernosus muscle, which does three things: allows the penis to engorge with blood during erection, it pumps during ejaculation, and it helps empty the urethra after urination, according to Healthline.

However, in contrast, a recent systematic review of published studies, the authors concluded that overall, the addition of testosterone to PDE-5 inhibitors might benefit patients with ED associated with testosterone levels of less than 300 ng/dL (10.4 nmol/L) who failed monotherapy. [20] A limitation of existing studies are their heterogeneous nature and methodological drawbacks.
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.
Robbins, C. L., Schick, V., Reece. M., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S. A. Dodge, B., & Fortenberry J. D., (2011, December 1). Prevalence, frequency, and associations of masturbation with partnered sexual behaviors among US adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 165(12), 1087–1093. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1107656
If you have a neurological disorder or spinal cord injury and other erectile dysfunction treatments aren’t effective, two types of surgical implants could offer solutions to your ED. “An implantable pump can be used to manually create an erection by pumping fluid into cylinders placed inside the penis,” explains Feloney. “The other option is a malleable prosthesis that works like a gooseneck lamp to direct the penis into position for intercourse." Risks for these ED treatments include infection and mechanical breakdown.
Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety announcement regarding TRT. In part it reads ‘The benefit and safety of these medications have not been established. We are also requiring these manufacturers to add information to the labeling about a possible increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking testosterone.’37
Sexual dysfunction is highly prevalent in men and women. In the MMAS, 52% of the respondents reported some degree of erectile difficulty. Complete ED, defined as (1) the total inability to obtain or maintain an erection during sexual stimulation and (2) the absence of nocturnal erections, occurred in 10% of the respondents. Mild and moderate ED occurred in 17% and 25% of responders, respectively. [15]
Cavernosography measurement of the vascular pressure in the corpus cavernosum. Saline is infused under pressure into the corpus cavernosum with a butterfly needle, and the flow rate needed to maintain an erection indicates the degree of venous leakage. The leaking veins responsible may be visualized by infusing a mixture of saline and x-ray contrast medium and performing a cavernosogram.[21] In Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA), the images are acquired digitally.
PDE5i use in PD has not been well studied; however its benefits have been shown. Raffaele performed an open label, prospective study evaluating the efficacy of sildenafil 50 mg on demand and depressive symptoms experienced by the PD patient (73). Erections were improved in approximately 85% of men and 75% noted improvements in their depressive symptoms as well. Sildenafil was well tolerated without significant side effects. Zesiewicz et al., performed a shorter study showing improvements in erectile function but no change in depression and parkinsonisms after ED treatment (74).
Capogrosso, P., Colicchia, M., Ventimiglia, E., Castagna, G., Clementi, M. C., Suardi, N., ... Salonia, A. (2013, July). One patient out of four with newly diagnosed erectile dysfunction is a young man — worrisome picture from the everyday clinical practice. The journal of sexual medicine. 10(7), 1833–1841. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/jsm.12179
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
Psychotherapy, marital counseling, or sex therapy may be helpful in treating cases of impotence that have psychological or emotional causes. A range of other treatments exists for cases of impotence that arise from purely physiological causes. These treatments include vacuum devices, penile injections, and penile implants. These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form. This drug works by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that, upon sexual stimulation, is normally released to widen the blood vessels supplying the penis. The increased flow of blood through those vessels into certain tissues in the penis causes an erection. See also sexual dysfunction.
Before taking any medication for erectile dysfunction, including over-the-counter supplements and herbal remedies, get your doctor's OK. Medications for erectile dysfunction do not work in all men and might be less effective in certain conditions, such as after prostate surgery or if you have diabetes. Some medications might also be dangerous if you:
The association between low testosterone and ED is not entirely clear. Although these 2 processes certainly overlap in some instances, they are distinct entities. Some 2-21% of men have both hypogonadism and ED; however, it is unclear to what degree treating the former will improve erectile function. [17] About 35-40% of men with low testosterone see an improvement in their erections with testosterone replacement; however, almost 65% of these men see no improvement. [15]

There are risks to prosthetic surgery and patients are counselled before the procedure. If there is a post-operative infection, the implant will likely be removed. The devices are reliable, but in the case of mechanical malfunction, the device or a part of the device will need to be replaced surgically. If a penile prosthesis is removed, other non-surgical treatments may no longer work.

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