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An erection occurs as a hydraulic effect due to blood entering and being retained in sponge-like bodies within the penis. The process is most often initiated as a result of sexual arousal, when signals are transmitted from the brain to nerves in the pelvis. Erectile dysfunction is indicated when an erection is consistently difficult or impossible to produce, despite arousal. There are various and often multiple underlying causes, some of which are treatable medical conditions. The most important organic causes are cardiovascular disease and diabetes, neurological problems (for example, trauma from prostatectomy surgery), hormonal insufficiencies (hypogonadism) and drug side effects. It is important to realize that erectile dysfunction can signal underlying risk for cardiovascular disease.
There is often a contributing and complicating and sometimes a primary psychological or relational problem. Psychological impotence is where erection or penetration fails due to thoughts or feelings (psychological reasons) rather than physical impossibility; this can often be helped. Notably in psychological impotence, there is a strong response to placebo treatment. Erectile dysfunction, tied closely as it is to cultural notions of potency, success and masculinity, can have severe psychological consequences. There is a strong culture of silence and inability to discuss the matter. In reality, it has been estimated that around 1 in 10 men will experience recurring impotence problems at some point in their lives.
Besides treating the underlying causes and psychological consequences, the first line treatment of erectile dysfunction consists of a trial of PDE5 inhibitor drugs (the first of which was sildenafil or Viagra). In some cases, treatment can involve prostaglandin tablets in the urethra, intracavernous injections with a fine needle into the penis that cause swelling, a penile prosthesis, a penis pump or vascular reconstructive surgery.
The Latin term impotentia coeundi describes simple inability to insert the penis into the vagina. It is now mostly replaced by more precise terms. The study of erectile dysfunction within medicine is covered by andrology, a sub-field within urology.
Erectile dysfunction is characterized by the regular or repeated inability to obtain or maintain an erection. There are several ways that erectile dysfunction is analyzed:
Erection problems are very common. The Sexual Dysfunction Association estimates that 1 in 10 men in the UK have recurring problems with their erections at some point in their life.
Penile erection is managed by two different mechanisms. The first one is the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft. The second is the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both conditions, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
A few causes of impotence may be iatrogenic (medically caused). Various antihypertensives (medications intended to control high blood pressure) and some drugs that modify central nervous system response may inhibit erection by denying blood supply or by altering nerve activity.
Surgical intervention for a number of different conditions may remove anatomical structures necessary to erection, damage nerves, or impair blood supply. Complete removal of the prostate gland or external beam radiotherapy of the gland are common causes of impotence; both are treatments for prostate cancer. Some studies have shown that male circumcision may result in an increased risk of impotence, while others have found no such effect, and another found the opposite.
A study in 2002 found that ED can also be associated with bicycling. The number of hours on a bike and/or the pressure on the penis from the saddle of an upright bicycle is directly related to erectile dysfunction.
There are no formal tests to diagnose erectile dysfunction. Some blood tests are generally done to exclude underlying disease, such as diabetes, hypogonadism and prolactinoma. Impotence is also related to generally poor physical health, poor dietary habits, obesity, and most specifically cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease.
A useful and simple way to distinguish between physiological and psychological impotence is to determine whether the patient ever has an erection. If never, the problem is likely to be physiological; if sometimes (however rarely), it could be physiological or psychological. The current diagnostic and statistical manual of mental diseases (DSM-IV) has included a listing for impotence.
Treatment depends on the cause. Testosterone supplements may be used for cases due to hormonal deficiency. However, the cause is more usually lack of adequate penile blood supply as a result of damage to inner walls of blood vessels. This damage is more frequent in older men, and often associated with disease, in particular diabetes.
Treatments (with the exception of testosterone supplementation, where effective) work on a temporary basis: they enable an erection to be attained and maintained long enough for intercourse, but do not permanently improve the underlying condition.
ED can in many cases be treated by drugs taken orally, injected, or as penile suppositories. These drugs increase the efficacy of nitrous oxide, which dilates the blood vessels of corpora cavernosa. When oral drugs or suppositories fail, injections into the erectile tissue of the penile shaft are extremely effective but occasionally cause priapism.
When pharmacological methods fail, a purpose-designed external vacuum pump can be used to attain erection, with a separate compression ring fitted to 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. Implants are irreversible and costly.
All these mechanical methods are based on simple principles of hydraulics and mechanics and are quite reliable, but have their disadvantages. In a few cases there is a vascular problem which can be treated surgically.
The cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases constitute a group of enzymes that catalyse the hydrolysis of the cyclic nucleotides cyclic AMP and cyclic GMP. They exist in different molecular forms and are unevenly distributed throughout the body.
One of the forms of phophodiesterase is termed PDE5. The prescription PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) are prescription drugs which are taken orally. They work by blocking the action of PDE5, which causes cGMP to degrade. CGMP specific phosphodiesterase type 5 causes the smooth muscle of the arteries in the penis to relax, allowing the corpus cavernosum to fill with blood.
These medications work when there is sexual stimulation. Depending on the treatment, it will need to be taken 20 minutes to 1 hour before sex and the period of time over which it works can vary between 3 hours and up to 36 hours.
Alprostadil can be injected into the penis or inserted using a special applicator - usually just before sexual intercourse.
Alprostadil has also become available in some countries as a topical cream (under the brand name Befar), and preliminary studies have shown a clinical efficacy of up to 83%. It has an onset of action of 10–15 minutes and its effects can last over 4 hours.
These work by placing the penis in a vacuum cylinder device. The device helps draw blood into the penis by applying negative pressure. A tension ring is applied at the base of the penis to help maintain the erection. 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 with a doctor's prescription.
Often, as a last resort if other treatments have failed, the most common procedure is prosthetic implants which involves the insertion of artificial rods into the penis.
Counselling is often a consideration, both where a psychological cause is suspected or must be ruled out, or to assist in management of any distress.
ED treatment drugs have a high placebo response: if a good result is expected, any highly praised, and often expensive, treatment can be effective. Reputable drugs can also benefit from the same effect.
Currently in phase II development, Zoraxel is based on clavulanic acid and allegedly alters brain dopamine and serotonin levels, thus improving erectile function.
Drug used for treating drug addicts can have some success in patients with inhibited sexual desire.
The experimental drug bremelanotide (formerly PT-141) does not act on the vascular system like the former compounds but allegedly increases sexual desire and drive in males as well as females. It is applied as a nasal spray. Bremelanotide allegedly works by activating melanocortin receptors in the brain. It is currently in Phase IIb trials.
Enzyte is a product that has been advertised by saturation coverage on television channels such as CourtTV. However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about Enzyte for deceptive advertising. It is manufactured by Berkeley Nutritionals, which is alleged to be the subject of an investigation by the Attorney General of Ohio and the defendant in class-action lawsuits for false advertising.
The effectiveness of Enzyte is in dispute. Some medical professionals in fact advise against taking Enzyte, saying that it can lead to damage. The Center for Science in the Public Interest have urged the Federal Trade Commission to disallow further television advertising for Enzyte due to a lack of proper studies supporting claims.
Enzyte is said to contain: Tribulus terrestris; Yohimbe Extract; Niacin; Epimedium; Avena sativa; zinc oxide; maca; Muira Pauma; Ginkgo biloba; L-Arginine; Saw Palmetto. Other ingredients: gelatin, rice bran, oat fiber, magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide.
Prelox is a Proprietary mix/combination of naturally occurring ingredients, L-arginine aspartate and Pycnogenol. In double blind tests carried out by Dr. Steven Lamm at New York University School of Medicine, 81.1% of men overall judged Prelox to be effective in improving their ability to engage in sexual activity. Whilst the supplements should be taken daily, the manufacturers claim that it brings the spontaneity back into ones' love life; unlike other products which must be remembered to be taken a fixed time before sexual activity.
Numerous alternative therapies are used to improve sexual function. Some include: niacin, zinc, copper, Korean red ginseng root, ginkgo, pine bark, Tribulus terrestris, arginine, Avena sativa, horny goat weed, maca root, muira puama, saw palmetto, and Swedish flower pollen. None of these however have been recognized as effective by the FDA. While zinc deficiency may be a cause of lower testosterone levels in hemodialysis patients, which may benefit from zinc supplementation, such supplements have no effect on the testosterone levels of healthy males who consume a zinc-sufficient diet.
The earliest attempts at treating erectile dysfunction date back to Muslim physicians and pharmacists in the medieval Islamic world. They were the first to prescribe medication for the treatment of this problem, and they developed several methods of therapy for this issue, including a single-drug therapy method where a drug was prescribed and a "combination method of either a drug or food." Most of these drugs were oral medication, though a few patients were also treated through topical and transurethral means. Erectile dysfunctions were being treated with tested drugs in the Islamic world since the 9th century until the 16th century by a number of Muslim physicians and pharmacists, including Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi, Thabit bin Qurra, Ibn Al-Jazzar, Avicenna (The Canon of Medicine), Averroes, Ibn al-Baitar, and Ibn al-Nafis (The Comprehensive Book on Medicine).
Dr. John R. Brinkley initiated a boom in male impotence cures in the US in the 1920s and 1930s. His radio programs recommended expensive goat gland implants and "mercurochrome" injections as the path to restored male virility, including operations by surgeon Serge Voronoff. After the Kansas State Medical Board revoked his medical license and the Federal Radio Commission refused to renew his radio license (both in 1930), Brinkley moved his operations just over the Texas border to Mexico where he opened a medical clinic and broadcast advertisements into the US from a border blaster radio station.
Surgeons began providing patients with inflatable penile implants in the 1970s.
Modern drug therapy for ED made a significant advance in 1983 when British physiologist Giles Brindley, Ph.D. dropped his trousers and demonstrated to a shocked American Urological Association audience his phentolamine-induced erection. The drug Brindley injected into his penis was a non-specific vasodilator, an alpha-blocking agent, and the mechanism of action was clearly corporal smooth muscle relaxation. The effect that Brindley discovered established the fundamentals for the later development of specific, safe, orally-effective drug therapies.
This article is from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Medical science has made many leaps forward since it has been written. This is not a site for medical advice, when you need information on a medical condition, consult a professional instead.
IMPOTENCE (Lat. impotentia, want of power), the term used in law for the inability of a husband or wife to have marital intercourse. In English matrimonial law if impotence exists in either of the parties to a marriage at the time of its solemnization the marriage is voidable ab initio. A suit for nullity on the ground of impotence can only be brought by the party who suffers the injury. Third persons - however great their interest - cannot sue for a decree on this ground, nor can a marriage be impeached after the death of one of the parties. The old rule of the ecclesiastical courts was to require a triennial cohabitation between the parties prior to the institution of the suit, but this has been practically abrogated (G. v. G., 1871, L.R. 2 P.C.D. 287). In suits for nullity on the ground of impotence, medical evidence as to the condition of the parties is necessary and a commission of two medical inspectors is usually appointed by the registrar of the court for the purpose of examining the parties; such cases are heard in camera. In the United States impotence is a ground for nullity in most states. In Germany it is recognized as a ground for annulment, but not so in France.