The most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. These include tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and sildenafil citrate (Viagra). These are effective for about 75% of men with erectile dysfunction. They are tablets that are taken around an hour before sex, and last between 4 and 36 hours. Sexual stimulation is required before an erection will occur. The PDE-5 inhibitors cause dilation of blood vessels in the penis to allow erection to occur, and help it to stay rigid. Men using nitrate medication (e.g. GTN spray or sublingual tablets for angina) should not use PDE-5 inhibitors.
Psychosocial problems are important and may cause erectile dysfunction by themselves or together with other causes of erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes and heart disease. Relationships are complicated and many factors cause tensions, which can affect sexual relations. For some men, these problems can become ongoing and it can help to talk through the issue with a skilled counsellor. It is important to know that the longer erectile dysfunction is left untreated, the greater the effect on relationships. This is another reason why early treatment of erectile dysfunction is important.
In a recent study of male workers, men with low testosterone levels had an increased chance of severe erectile dysfunction (Kratzik et al 2005), although such a link had not been found previously (Rhoden et al 2002). Certainly erectile dysfunction is considered part of the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism, and questions regarding erectile dysfunction form part of the clinical assessment of patients with hypogonadism (Morley et al 2000; Moore et al 2004).
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.
A larger national study, the National Health and Social Life Survey, looked at sexual function in men and women.4 This study surveyed 1,410 men aged 18 to 59 and also documented an increase in ED with age. Additionally, the study found a decrease in sexual desire with increasing age. Men in the oldest cohort (50 to 59) were more than 3 times as likely to experience erection problems and to report low sexual desire compared with men 18 to 29. Experience of sexual dysfunction was more likely among men in poor physical and emotional health. The study also concluded that sexual dysfunction is an important public health concern and that emotional issues are likely to contribute to the experience sexual dysfunction.
Important future developments will include selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). These drugs will be able to produce isolated effects of testosterone at androgen receptors. They are likely to become useful clinical drugs, but their initial worth may lie in facilitating research into the relative importance of testosterone’s action at the androgen receptor compared to at other sites or after conversion to other hormones. Testosterone will remain the treatment of choice for late onset hypogonadism for some time to come.
Low testosterone levels can cause mood disturbances, increased body fat, loss of muscle tone, inadequate erections and poor sexual performance, osteoporosis, difficulty with concentration, memory loss and sleep difficulties. Current research suggests that this effect occurs in only a minority (about 2%) of ageing men. However, there is a lot of research currently in progress to find out more about the effects of testosterone in older men and also whether the use of testosterone replacement therapy would have any benefits.
Most men may not openly talk about their erection problems, but erectile dysfunction — when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection well enough or long enough to have satisfying sex — is very common. According to the National Institutes of Health, 5 percent of 40-year-olds and 15 to 25 percent of 65-years old have ED. But while ED is more likely to occur as a man gets older, it doesn’t come automatically with age.
The aim of treatment for hypogonadism is to normalize serum testosterone levels and abolish symptoms or pathological states that are due to low testosterone levels. The exact target testosterone level is a matter of debate, but current recommendations advocate levels in the mid-lower normal adult range (Nieschlag et al 2005). Truly physiological testosterone replacement would require replication of the diurnal rhythm of serum testosterone levels, but there is no current evidence that this is beneficial (Nieschlag et al 2005).
The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.
"The hard part," said Dr. Anawalt, "is the man who is 50 pounds overweight and sedentary, who sees a TV ad and goes to see his doctor. Let's say he has a thoughtful doctor who does the right test, at the right time of day (morning), and the test comes back low. Many of these guys will have low or slightly low testosterone. We have no evidence for whether or not it's a benefit to give these guys testosterone." He added that concern about their testosterone level could be a good thing if it spurs men to lose weight and exercise. "A low testosterone level can be a marker of poor health," he said.