Erectile dysfunction


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Sexual health is an important part of an individual’s overall physical and emotional well-being. Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence, is a very common medical condition affecting sexual health. It is normal for a man to loss an erection from time to time but if it becomes a regular occurrence then at visit to the doctors is advised. Impotence can be caused by diseases or the treatment for disease. 

To assess whether you may have a problem, the following table may be helpful. First of all assess your function in by answering the questions in the table below. Add the numbers corresponding to questions 1-5. If your score is 21 or less, you may be showing signs of erectile dysfunction and may want to speak to your doctor. To complete the form, think back over the last 6 months, circle the number of the response that best describes your own situation. Please be sure that you select only one response for each question.








How do you rate your confidence that you could get and keep an erection? No sexual activity

Very low




Very High

When you had erections with sexual stimulation, how often were they erections hard enough for penetration? No sexual activity Almost never or never A few times ( < half the time) Sometimes (about half the time) Most times( > half the time) Almost always or always
During sexual intercourse, how often were you able to maintain your erection after you had penetrated (entered) your partner? Did not attempt intercourse Did not attempt intercourse Almost never Sometimes Most times (> half the time) Almost always or always
During sexual intercourse, how difficult was it to maintain your erection to completion of intercourse? Did not attempt intercourse Extremely difficult Very difficult Difficult Slightly difficult Not difficult
How often was it satisfactory for you Did not attempt intercourse Almost never or never A few times (< half the time) Sometimes (about half the time) Most times ( > half the time) Almost always or always

Common causes of erectile dysfunction:

  • Vascular causes:
    These are very common and are the result of a lack of blood entering or being trapped in the penis. Risk factors for vascular causes are smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and alterations in cholesterol levels.
  • Neurological causes:
    These interrupt the message from the brain to the penis and are usually obvious, for example spinal injury, multiple sclerosis and radical pelvic surgery.
  • Hormonal causes:
     Lack of male sex hormones caused by removal of the testes, radiotherapy to the testes, viral infections such as mumps. Treatments for prostate cancer such as LHRH agonists which stop the formation of testosterone.
  • Psychological causes:
    In this case the penile mechanism is normal but the erection is inhibited by psychological problems which may range from simple anxiety, for example the fear of failing to get an erection (performance anxiety), to relationship problems, depression or other psychological disturbances. Stress of any kind may disrupt sexual performance.
  • Medications:
    Several medications, particularly those used to treat hypertension, cardiac disease and psychiatric disorders can interfere with the ability to have an erection.

Lifestyle factors and erectile dysfunction

  • Obesity is associated with impotence. If relevant try to slim down 
  • Alcohol abuse. Although loosing some inhibitions following a drink seems helpful in the longer term alcohol intake leads to ED
  • A sedentary lifestyle try to increase general exercise levels and supplement this with regular pelvic floor exercises
  • Excess cycling. Whereas moderate cycling is very healthy, extreme cyclist often sit on a hard saddle for several hours a week an dthi si associated with lower testosterone and prostate inflammation both linked to ED.
  • Nitrate rich foods. Celery, pomegranate, beetroot contain nitartes which are metabolised into nitric Oxide which is an arterial dilator helping to improve the blood supply into the tissues including the penis

As well as helping in their own right, these lifestyle initiatives can help improve psychological health and lower blood pressure. With time, and undersupervision, it may be possible to stop the medications for these condition which will also help ED. 

What Medical treatments are available ?

  • Counseling
    Most men who suffer from impotence will be affected psychologically, even when the cause is due to a physical disease. Counselling may help you and your partner to talk about the problem and even to overcome it. It may also help to reassure you both and ease the tension in your relationship. Counselling is required by most young men (under 40 years of age), as the cause of their problem is rarely physical.
  • Psychiatric Advice and Treatment
    This may be necessary if you are suffering from depression or other psychological problems, which can cause impotence.
  • Hormone Therapy
    A minority of men suffer from low testosterone (The male menopause) causing reduced sex drive and ED.  It is easy to give hormone replacement therapy using patches, tablets or injections. In rare cases patients suffer from a pituitary tumour which may require additional treatment.
  • Oral Medication
    Sildenafil (Viagra®) is the first tablet that is clearly effective in the treatment of many impotent men. It acts upon the penis to enhance the blood supply and facilitates maintaining an erection. It improves the erection in approximately 40 –80% of men, depending on the type of impotence. It does not improve sexual desire. A tablet (25-50 or 100mg) is taken one hour before sexual activity. It may produce side effects such as headaches (15%), flushing (10%, gastrointestinal (7%) or visual disturbances (3%) and should never be used by men with a rare eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Men taking nitrates, which are normally prescribed for heart problems should not take sildenafil either and medical counselling is always required before starting treatment. There are a number of other drugs in this class now available such as Cialis.
  •  Transurethral administration of Alprostadil
    A special system, the medicated urethral system for erection (MUSE®), has been designed for the local administration of medication to the penis through the urethra. This form of treatment involves inserting a small plastic cylinder (Figure 1), into the urethra (urine tube), and introducing a small pellet of alprostadil. You will need to pass urine immediately before this – to provide lubrication and also to help with the absorption of the drug. Enough of the active compound enters the penis to produce an erection. It is used ten to fifteen minutes before the erection is required and is effective in 43% of patients. It is often accompanied by a temporary burning sensation in the urethra. Discomfort occurs in a third of patients and minor bleeding from the urine tube in 5% of men. A condom should always be used when your partner is likely to conceive or is already pregnant.
  • Intracavernosal Injection
    This involves the injection of a specific dose of the drug directly into the penis through a fine needle. The injection usually mimics the normal physical events that initiate and maintain a spontaneous erection. This technique can be easily learned by the patient for use at home and the doctor will determine the correct dose for each patient. The patient self-injects the drug ten to fifteen minutes before sexual activity and the dose is adjusted so that the erection lasts about one hour. The erection should not last more than four hours! If this happens, you must contact your physician immediately. Pain in the penis during the erection occurs in some patients, and there is a small risk of scarring of the penis with long-term use. Papaverine was the first drug to be used for injection treatment into the penis and has also been used in combination with phentolamine and alprostadil. Alprostadil (CAVERJECT®  is the most extensively used around the world, being highly effective and safe. Moxisylyte, a combination of papaverine and phentolamine  and a combination of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and phentolamine  are also available in some countries. .
  • Vacuum Devices
    This treatment uses a pump and cylinder to create a vacuum around the penis so that it engorges. The plastic cylinder is placed over the penis and against the body, using lubricating jelly to produce a seal. A hand or battery operated pump is used to draw air out of the cylinder. This causes blood to enter the penis and produces stiffness. A band is then slipped off the cylinder and around the base of the penis to trap the blood and maintain the erection, and the cylinder is then removed. The rubber band may safely be left in position for 20-30 minutes and will sustain an erection until it is removed. This technique takes a little while to learn and good communication between you and your partner is necessary. Many people have reported satisfactory results with this treatment. Some discomfort and bruising may occur. Orgasm is not altered but the constrictor band may prevent the sperm appearing at the time of ejaculation.
  • Arterial Surgery
    This form of surgery aims to increase both blood and blood pressure within the penis. It is advisable for young patients who have had an accident, which has affected normal blood supply. It consists in connecting a healthy blood vessel (normally from the abdominal wall) to an artery of the penis and in this way by-passing the arterial block. At present it is only carried out in a very small number of cases (about1% of men with impotence).
  • Venous Surgery
    This used to be a popular method of treatment but is nowadays considered, by most surgeons, to be ineffective except for selected patients. In this case the surgeon ties up or removes veins from the penis in a way, which is similar to that used in surgery for varicose veins.
  • Penile Prostheses
    Two synthetic cylinders are placed inside the penis with an operation. They make the penis stiff enough for penetration. There are several types of prothesies and the simple malleable prostheses are the cheapest although they have the drawback of giving the penis a permanent semi-erect state. Inflatable prostheses consist of a pump mechanism and a reservoir in addition to the penile cylinders and give better results and a more natural look to the penis. Although implants carry the risk of infection (particularly in diabetics) or mechanical breakdown, the failure rate is now very low and serious complications are unusual.

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