The nerves and endothelium of sinusoids and vessels in the penis produce and release transmitters and modulators that control the contractile state of corporal smooth muscles. Although the membrane receptors play an important role, downstream signaling pathways are also important. The RhoA–Rho kinase pathway is involved in the regulation of cavernosal smooth muscle contraction. [12]
Given the high risk of priapism during escalation of therapy for intracorporeal injection, it is recommended that the drugs be administered in a supervised office visit initially and that the patient be given a well-articulated plan for treatment of priapism if it occurs. Escalation guidelines for alprostadil alone vary, but a general guideline is to start at 2.5 mcg and increase by 2.5 mcg to a dose of 5 mcg and then in increments of 5 mcg to 10 mcg until an erection sufficient for penetration, not lasting more than 1 hour, is achieved. If there is no response to the initial 2.5-mcg dose, escalation dosing can be slightly more liberal.34 A European prospective trial of PGE1 alone found 91% of the 54 patients completing the 4 years of the study reported good or better tolerability and satisfaction with therapy.35
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.

Both ED and low testosterone (hypogonadism) increase with age. The incidence of the latter is 40% in men aged 45 years and older. [15] Testosterone is known to be important in mood, cognition, vitality, bone health, and muscle and fat composition. It also plays a key role in sexual dysfunction (eg, low libido, poor erection quality, ejaculatory or orgasmic dysfunction, reduced spontaneous erections, or reduced sexual activity). [16]
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.
What happens is that the blood vessels of the penis are rather small, and a small amount of plaque in the penile arteries is going to result in erectile dysfunction. You need more plaque before the person’s actually symptomatic from a heart problem, but they’re linked. And so when anybody, any man has an erectile issue, it’s incumbent upon the physician to make certain that their cardiac status is healthy.
A vacuum erection device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. This type of device is sometimes referred to as penis pump and may be used just prior to sexual intercourse. Several types of FDA approved vacuum therapy devices are available under prescription. When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to the base of the penis to maintain it. These pumps should be distinguished from other penis pumps (supplied without compression rings) which, rather than being used for temporary treatment of impotence, are claimed to increase penis length if used frequently, or vibrate as an aid to masturbation. More drastically, inflatable or rigid penile implants may be fitted surgically.
ED usually has a multifactorial etiology. Organic, physiologic, endocrine, and psychogenic factors are involved in the ability to obtain and maintain erections. In general, ED is divided into 2 broad categories, organic and psychogenic. Although most ED was once attributed to psychological factors, pure psychogenic ED is in fact uncommon; however, many men with organic etiologies may also have an associated psychogenic component.

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.
Erectile dysfunction may be the result of arterial and non-arteritic causes. Hardening of the arteries that bring blood into the penis, atherosclerosis, is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, particularly in men with cardiovascular disease. However, problems with the nerves that supply the penis as well as the veins that drain blood out of the penis can also cause troubles with erection. Erectile dysfunction may also have a psychological cause.
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]
Parasympathetic pathways originate from the intermediolateral cell columns of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th sacral spinal cord segments. Preganglionic fibers pass through the pelvic plexus where they coalesce with sympathetic fibers from the superior hypogastric plexus. The cavernous nerves that innervate the penis arise from the portion of the pelvic plexus. The pelvic plexus also contains nerves that innervate the rectum, bladder and urinary sphincter and the nerve projections can be damaged during radical excision of the bladder, prostate and rectum, leading to iatrogenic ED (4).
Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20

If it is determined that ED is a problem, the patient evaluation should include a detailed sexual and medical history and a physical exam. In particular, it is important to evaluate the ED within the context of ejaculatory problems. There is a strong interplay between premature ejaculation (PE) and ED, with about a third of ED patients reporting PE. The relationship between the PE and ED is bidirectional and successful treatment of one often requires treatment of the other.14
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
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.
All devices that are currently approved by the FDA are considered safe for use in magnetic resonance imaging environments. However, 2 previously approved devices–the OmniPhase and the DuraPhase penile prostheses–are not considered safe in this environment. Other surgical procedures–including venous ligation to limit penile venous outflow and penile revascularization procedures–are rarely successful and are not recommended.19 These surgeries are only indicated when a patient demonstrates recent-onset ED and an occlusive lesion seen on angiogram or magnetic resonance angiography and should be performed only in centers of excellence for ED.
Palmer MR, Holt SK, Sarma AV, Dunn RL, Hotaling JM, Cleary PA, Braffett BH, Martin C, Herman WH, Jacobson AM, Wessells H; Diabetes Control and Complications Trial and Epidemiology of Diabetes Interventions and Complications Research Group. Longitudinal Patterns of Occurrence and Remission of Erectile Dysfunction in Men With Type 1 Diabetes. J Sex Med. 2017 Oct;14(10):1187-1194. Doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2017.07.012. Epub 2017 Aug 26.
It is important for clinicians prescribing these drugs to make the patient aware of the action of the drugs especially the fact that they do not result in an immediate erection, and that they do not cause an erection without sexual stimulation. There is frequently a great expectation when men begin using these drugs and it is wise to temper their enthusiasm and explain they do not work immediately, and may not work every time, but also let the patient know that if these drugs do not work, there are other options.
"For men who are unwilling or unable to self-inject alprostadil, the FDA has approved this dissolvable pellet that can be inserted directly into the urethra, the opening of the penis," says Dr. Feloney. MUSE, with an inspiring name that actually stands for medicated urethral system for erection, will trigger an erection in about 10 minutes that may last as long as an hour. Using MUSE to treat ED can result in somewhat unpleasant side effects, however — including an aching sensation, burning, redness, and minor bleeding.

In one study, 9.6% reported ‘occasional’ erectile dysfunction, 8.9% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘often’, and 18.6% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘all the time’. Of these, only 11.6% had received treatment.In another study, only 14.1% of men reported that they had received treatment, despite experiencing erectile dysfunction for longer than 12 months.
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Once a complete sexual and medical history has been completed, appropriate laboratory studies should be conducted. In the initial evaluation of ED, sophisticated laboratory testing is rarely necessary. For example, serum testosterone (and sometimes prolactin) is typically only useful when the patient demonstrates hypogonadal features or testicular atrophy, or when clinical history is suggestive. Additional hormonal evaluation may include thyroid stimulating hormone in those with a clinical suspicion of hypothyroidism or appropriate diabetes screening in those presenting with a concern for impaired glucose metabolism. If the patient has not been evaluated with a lipid panel and hyperlipidemia is suspected, measurement and appropriate referral to internal medicine or cardiology is recommended. In most cases, a tentative diagnosis can be established with a complete sexual and medical history, physical examination, and limited or no laboratory testing.
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil. [18] This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
While pills for ED are convenient, some men sustain stronger erections by injecting medication directly into the penis. Drugs approved for this purpose work by widening the blood vessels, causing the penis to become engorged with blood. Another option is inserting a medicated pellet into the urethra. The pellet can trigger an erection within 10 minutes.
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