Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and 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 cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the 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.[18] Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. 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.
Clinical trials of the effect of testosterone on glucose metabolism in men have occurred in diabetic and non-diabetic populations. Data specific to aging males is not available. A series of studies investigated the effects of testosterone or dihydrotestosterone given for 6 weeks or 3 months to middle aged, non-diabetic obese men (Marin, Holmang et al 1992; Marin, Krotkiewski et al 1992; Marin et al 1993). It was found that physiological treatment doses led to improved insulin resistance, as measured by the gold standard technique using a euglycemic clamp and/or serum glucose and insulin responses during glucose tolerance test. These improvements were associated with decreased central obesity, measured by computered tomography (CT) or waist-hip ratio, without reduced total fat mass. Insulin resistance improved more with testosterone than dihydrotestosterone treatment and beneficial effects were greater in men with lower baseline testosterone levels. Increasing testosterone levels into the supraphysiological range lead to decreased glucose tolerance.
"I am very cautious about committing someone for life to medication," said Dr. Kathleen L. Wyne, who directs research on diabetes and metabolism at Houston's Methodist Hospital Research Institute and serves on the Sex Hormone and Reproductive Endocrinology Scientific Committee for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. "That does frustrate patients because they have heard about [Low T] from TV and friends."
Tests such as the bulbocavernosus reflex test are used to determine if there is sufficient nerve sensation in the penis. The physician squeezes the glans (head) of the penis, which immediately causes the anus to contract if nerve function is normal. A physician measures the latency between squeeze and contraction by observing the anal sphincter or by feeling it with a gloved finger inserted past the anus.
Transdermal preparations of testosterone utilize the fact that the skin readily absorbs steroid hormones. Initial transdermal preparations took the form of scrotal patches with testosterone loaded on to a membranous patch. Absorption from the scrotal skin was particularly good and physiological levels of testosterone with diurnal variation were reliably attained. The scrotal patches are now rarely used because they require regular shaving or clipping of scrotal hair and because they produce rather high levels of dihydrotestosterone compared to testosterone (Behre et al 1999). Subsequently, non-scrotal patches were developed but the absorptive capacity of non-scrotal skin is much lower, so these patches contain additional chemicals which enhance absorption. The non-scrotal skin patches produce physiological testosterone levels without supraphysiological dihydrotestosterone levels. Unfortunately, the patches produce a high rate of local skin reactions often leading to discontinuation (Parker and Armitage 1999). In the last few years, transdermal testosterone gel preparations have become available. These require daily application by patients and produce steady state physiological testosterone levels within a few days in most patients (Swerdloff et al 2000; Steidle et al 2003). The advantages compared with testosterone patches include invisibility, reduced skin irritation and the ability to adjust dosage, but concerns about transfer to women and children on close skin contact necessitate showering after application or coverage with clothes.
However, testosterone is only one of many factors that aid in adequate erections. Research is inconclusive regarding the role of testosterone replacement in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. In a review of studies that looked at the benefit of testosterone in men with erection difficulties, nearly half showed no improvement with testosterone treatment. Many times, other health problems play a role in erectile difficulties. These can include:
These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.
Male hypogonadism becomes more common with increasing age and is currently an under-treated condition. The diagnosis of hypogonadism in the aging male requires a combination of symptoms and low serum testosterone levels. The currently available testosterone preparations can produce consistent physiological testosterone levels and provide for patient preference.
Trials of testosterone treatment in men with type 2 diabetes have also taken place. A recent randomized controlled crossover trial assessed the effects of intramuscular testosterone replacement to achieve levels within the physiological range, compared with placebo injections in 24 men with diabetes, hypogonadism and a mean age of 64 years (Kapoor et al 2006). Ten of these men were insulin treated. Testosterone treatment led to a significant reduction in glycated hemoglobin (HbA1C) and fasting glucose compared to placebo. Testosterone also produced a significant reduction in insulin resistance, measured by the homeostatic model assessment (HOMA), in the fourteen non-insulin treated patients. It is not possible to measure insulin resistance in patients treated with insulin but five out of ten of these patients had a reduction of insulin dose during the study. Other significant changes during testosterone treatment in this trial were reduced total cholesterol, waist circumference and waist-hip ratio. Similarly, a placebo-controlled but non-blinded trial in 24 men with visceral obesity, diabetes, hypogonadism and mean age 57 years found that three months of oral testosterone treatment led to significant reductions in HbA1C, fasting glucose, post-prandial glucose, weight, fat mass and waist-hip ratio (Boyanov et al 2003). In contrast, an uncontrolled study of 150 mg intramuscular testosterone given to 10 patients, average age 64 years, with diabetes and hypogonadism found no significant change in diabetes control, fasting glucose or insulin levels (Corrales et al 2004). Another uncontrolled study showed no beneficial effect of testosterone treatment on insulin resistance, measured by HOMA and ‘minimal model’ of area under acute insulin response curves, in 11 patients with type 2 diabetes aged between 33 and 73 years (Lee et al 2005). Body mass index was within the normal range in this population and there was no change in waist-hip ratio or weight during testosterone treatment. Baseline testosterone levels were in the low-normal range and patients received a relatively small dose of 100 mg intramuscular testosterone every three weeks. A good increase in testosterone levels during the trial is described but it is not stated at which time during the three week cycle the testosterone levels were tested, so the lack of response could reflect an insufficient overall testosterone dose in the trial period.
Although some men believe that taking testosterone medications may help them feel younger and more vigorous as they age, few rigorous studies have examined testosterone therapy in men who have healthy testosterone levels. And some small studies have revealed mixed results. For example, in one study healthy men who took testosterone medications increased muscle mass but didn't gain strength.
"The hope," explained Dr. Swerdloff in a telephone interview, "is this will provide some clarity as to whether testosterone replacement therapy will benefit men in this older age group who clearly have abnormal testosterone and have some symptoms." He added, "We don't know whether it will be beneficial at all the endpoints we are studying, or be beneficial to some and not others. We don't know if the benefits occur at different blood levels that are attained in the individuals."
The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.
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.
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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.
“This study establishes testosterone levels at which various physiological functions start to become impaired, which may help provide a rationale for determining which men should be treated with testosterone supplements,” Finkelstein says. “But the biggest surprise was that some of the symptoms routinely attributed to testosterone deficiency are actually partially or almost exclusively caused by the decline in estrogens that is an inseparable result of lower testosterone levels.”
Relationship problems often complicate erectile dysfunction. Improving your relationship may be part of the solution. It may be a good idea to get counseling together from a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or a medical specialist. "I almost always see couples together to discuss erectile dysfunction. It often turns out that both partners have issues regarding the sexual relationship and once they are out in the open, couples can work together on a more satisfying sexual experience," says Feloney.
Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. In male humans, testosterone plays a key role in the development of male reproductive tissues such as testes and prostate, as well as promoting secondary sexual characteristics such as increased muscle and bone mass, and the growth of body hair.[2] In addition, testosterone is involved in health and well-being,[3] and the prevention of osteoporosis.[4] Insufficient levels of testosterone in men may lead to abnormalities including frailty and bone loss.
One of the first steps is to distinguish between physiological and psychological ED. Determining whether involuntary erections are present is important in eliminating the possibility of psychogenic causes for ED.[1] Obtaining full erections occasionally, such as nocturnal penile tumescence when asleep (that is, when the mind and psychological issues, if any, are less present), tends to suggest that the physical structures are functionally working.[19][20] Similarly, performance with manual stimulation, as well as any performance anxiety or acute situational ED, may indicate a psychogenic component to ED.[1]
Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.
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