Erectile dysfunction is defined as the persistent inability to achieve or maintain penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study surveyed 1,709 men aged 40–70 years between 1987 and 1989 and found there was a total prevalence of erectile dysfunction of 52 percent. It was estimated that, in 1995, over 152 million men worldwide experienced ED. For 2025, the prevalence of ED is predicted to be approximately 322 million worldwide.
Studies also show a consistent negative correlation of testosterone with blood pressure (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988; Khaw and Barrett-Connor 1988; Svartberg, von Muhlen, Schirmer et al 2004). Data specific to the ageing male population suggests that this relationship is particularly powerful for systolic hypertension (Fogari et al 2005). Interventional trials have not found a significant effect of testosterone replacement on blood pressure (Kapoor et al 2006).
Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones called androgens, which are sometimes called steroids or anabolic steroids. In men, testosterone is produced mainly in the testes, with a small amount made in the adrenal glands. The brain's hypothalamus and pituitary gland control testosterone production. The hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland on how much testosterone to produce, and the pituitary gland passes the message on to the testes. These communications happen through chemicals and hormones in the bloodstream.
Erectile dysfunction is a common finding in the aging male. A prevalence of over 70% was found in men older than 70 in a recent cross-sectional study (Ponholzer et al 2005). Treatment with phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors is proven to be effective for the majority of men but some do not respond (Shabsigh and Anastasiadis 2003). The condition is multi-factorial, with contributions from emotional, vascular, neurological and pharmacological factors. The concept of erectile dysfunction as a vascular disease is particularly interesting in view of the evidence presented above, linking testosterone to atherosclerosis and describing its action as a vasodilator.
Even before the study yields its findings, Dr. Swerdloff said a few important points should be emphasized. "I want to make it clear that this is not a made-up disease," he said. "It is well known in younger men that if you have a failure to produce normal testosterone, there are certain signs and symptoms that create a kind of syndrome. Treatment for low testosterone has been documented to be beneficial."
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).