When stimulated by the nerves, the spongy tissue arranges itself in such a way that more blood can be stored in the penis. The veins running through the outer sheath of the penis then compress which stops the blood from leaving the penis. As the blood is stopped from flowing out, the penis fills with blood and stretches within the outer casing, giving an erection.
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. In addition, testosterone is involved in health and well-being, and the prevention of osteoporosis. Insufficient levels of testosterone in men may lead to abnormalities including frailty and bone loss.
While testosterone stimulates a man’s sex drive, it also aids in achieving and maintaining an erection. Testosterone alone doesn’t cause an erection, but it stimulates receptors in the brain to produce nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a molecule that helps trigger a series of chemical reactions necessary for an erection to occur. When testosterone levels are too low, a man may have difficulty achieving an erection prior to sex or having spontaneous erections (for example, during sleep).
The largest amounts of testosterone (>95%) are produced by the testes in men, while the adrenal glands account for most of the remainder. Testosterone is also synthesized in far smaller total quantities in women by the adrenal glands, thecal cells of the ovaries, and, during pregnancy, by the placenta. In the testes, testosterone is produced by the Leydig cells. The male generative glands also contain Sertoli cells, which require testosterone for spermatogenesis. Like most hormones, testosterone is supplied to target tissues in the blood where much of it is transported bound to a specific plasma protein, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
The effects of testosterone in humans and other vertebrates occur by way of multiple mechanisms: by activation of the androgen receptor (directly or as DHT), and by conversion to estradiol and activation of certain estrogen receptors. Androgens such as testosterone have also been found to bind to and activate membrane androgen receptors.
Cross-sectional studies have not shown raised testosterone levels at the time of diagnosis of prostate cancer, and in fact, low testosterone at the time of diagnosis has been linked with more locally aggressive and malignant tumors (Massengill et al 2003; Imamoto et al 2005; Isom-Batz et al 2005). This may reflect loss of hormone related control of the tumor or the effect of a more aggressive tumor in decreasing testosterone levels. One study found that 14% of hypogonadal men, with normal digital rectal examination and PSA levels, had histological prostate cancer on biopsy. It is possible that low androgen levels masked the usual evidence of prostate cancer in this population (Morgentaler et al 1996). Most longitudinal studies have not shown a correlation between testosterone levels and the future development of prostate cancer (Carter et al 1995; Heikkila et al 1999; Stattin et al 2004) but a recent study did find a positive association (Parsons et al 2005). Interpretation of such data requires care, as the presentation of prostate cancer could be altered or delayed in patients with lower testosterone levels.
Attention, memory, and spatial ability are key cognitive functions affected by testosterone in humans. Preliminary evidence suggests that low testosterone levels may be a risk factor for cognitive decline and possibly for dementia of the Alzheimer's type, a key argument in life extension medicine for the use of testosterone in anti-aging therapies. Much of the literature, however, suggests a curvilinear or even quadratic relationship between spatial performance and circulating testosterone, where both hypo- and hypersecretion (deficient- and excessive-secretion) of circulating androgens have negative effects on cognition.
If PDE5 drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) allows blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle into your penis. Or, a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories and injections are effective in the majority of men.
Cardiovascular disease, and its underlying pathological process atherosclerosis, is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed and developing world. Coronary heart disease in particular is the commonest cause of death worldwide (AHA 2002; MacKay and Mensah 2004). As well as increasing with age, this disease is more common in the male versus female population internationally, which has led to interest in the potential role of sex hormones in modulating risk of development of atherosclerosis. Concerns about the potential adverse effects of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease have previously contributed to caution in prescribing testosterone to those who have, or who are at risk of, cardiovascular disease. Contrary to fears of the potential adverse effects of testosterone on cardiovascular disease, there are over forty epidemiological studies which have examined the relationship of testosterone levels to the presence or development of coronary heart disease, and none have shown a positive correlation. Many of these studies have found the presence of coronary heart disease to be associated with low testosterone levels (Reviews: Jones, Jones et al 2003; Jones et al 2005).
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
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In males, testosterone is required for the development of male sex organs such as increased penis and testes size. The hormone also promotes the development of sexual male characteristics during puberty such as voice deepening and the growth of armpit, chest and pubic hair. Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining sex drive, sperm production, muscle strength and bone mass. A healthy level of testosterone is also protective against bone disorders such as osteoporosis.
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:
Dr. Anawalt called the diagnosis and treatment of low testosterone a careful balancing act. "You don't want to leave the impression that no one is at risk for low testosterone," he said. He explained that physicians need to be aware that men coming in with low libido, sexual function, osteoporosis, or new breast sensitivity might well have low testosterone. Besides measuring testosterone— usually two or even three times—confirmatory tests will also measure other hormones that regulate testosterone and sperm production in the testicle. "If they don't have that evidence," said Dr. Anawalt, "we will tell a man we don't think you're suffering from the effects of low testosterone."
Inside the cell, NOS catalyzes the oxidation of L-arginine to NO and L-citrulline. Endogenous blockers of this pathway have been identified. The gaseous NO that is produced acts as a neurotransmitter or paracrine messenger. Its biologic half-life is only 5 seconds. NO may act within the cell or diffuse and interact with nearby target cells. In the corpora cavernosa, NO activates guanylate cyclase, which in turn increases cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Relaxation of vascular smooth muscles by cGMP leads to vasodilation and increased blood flow.
The mechanisms by which testosterone plays a role in erectile function are not completely understood. A study evaluating the effect of testosterone on erections in surgically castrated rabbits and control animals, in which the rabbits’ intracavernosal pressures were compared after cavernosal nerve stimulation, determined that castrated rabbits had much lower pressures after stimulation than control rabbits did.  Notably, the pressures increased when castrated rabbits received exogenous testosterone replacement.
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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.