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:
Having learned a great deal more about erectile dysfunction including its risk factors and causes, you should be equipped to assess your own erectile function. If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. If you choose to seek help, give your doctor as much information as you can about your symptoms including their frequency and severity as well as the onset. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.
Several pathways have been described to explain how information travels from the hypothalamus to the sacral autonomic centers. One pathway travels from the dorsomedial hypothalamus through the dorsal and central gray matter, descends to the locus ceruleus, and projects ventrally in the mesencephalic reticular formation. Input from the brain is conveyed through the dorsal spinal columns to the thoracolumbar and sacral autonomic nuclei.
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.
Epidemiological studies suggest that many significant clinical findings and important disease states are linked to low testosterone levels. These include osteoporosis (Campion and Maricic 2003), Alzheimer’s disease (Moffat et al 2004), frailty, obesity (Svartberg, von Muhlen, Sundsfjord et al 2004), diabetes (Barrett-Connor 1992), hypercholesterolemia (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003), hypertension (Phillips et al 1993), cardiac failure (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003) and ischemic heart disease (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988). The extent to which testosterone deficiency is involved in the pathogenesis of these conditions, or to which testosterone supplementation could be useful in their treatment is an area of great interest with many unanswered questions.
Additionally, the physiologic processes involving erections begin at the genetic level. Certain genes become activated at critical times to produce proteins vital to sustaining this pathway. Some researchers have focused on identifying particular genes that place men at risk for ED. At present, these studies are limited to animal models, and little success has been reported to date.  Nevertheless, this research has given rise to many new treatment targets and a better understanding of the entire process.
If you’re experiencing psychological ED, you may benefit from talk therapy. Therapy can help you manage your mental health. You’ll likely work with your therapist over several sessions, and your therapist will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
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Camacho EM1, Huhtaniemi IT, O'Neill TW, Finn JD, Pye SR, Lee DM, Tajar A, Bartfai G, Boonen S, Casanueva FF, Forti G, Giwercman A, Han TS, Kula K, Keevil B, Lean ME, Pendleton N, Punab M, Vanderschueren D, Wu FC; EMAS Group. “Age-associated changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular function in middle-aged and older men are modified by weight change and lifestyle factors: longitudinal results from the European Male Ageing Study.” Eur J Endocrinol. 2013 Feb 20;168(3):445-55. doi: 10.1530/EJE-12-0890. Print 2013 Mar.
In addition to its role as a natural hormone, testosterone is used as a medication, for instance in the treatment of low testosterone levels in men and breast cancer in women. Since testosterone levels decrease as men age, testosterone is sometimes used in older men to counteract this deficiency. It is also used illicitly to enhance physique and performance, for instance in athletes.
In Australia, where it is illegal for drug makers to advertise directly to consumers—as it is everywhere except the United States and New Zealand— Dr. Vitry told me via e-mail that the country's FDA-like regulatory body, Medicines Australia, fined Bayer a minuscule, but symbolic, 10,000 Australian dollars for breaching MA's code of conduct in its TRT disease-awareness campaign. Although Bayer implied that low testosterone was the most prevalent cause of the symptoms described, and that there was a high incidence of low T, Vitry said Medicines Australia didn't nail Bayer for illegal direct-to-consumer advertising because its campaign "did not encourage patients to seek a prescription for a specific testosterone product."
Abnormally high levels of testosterone could be the result of an adrenal gland disorder, or even cancer of the testes. High levels may also occur in less serious conditions. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which can affect males and females, is a rare but natural cause for elevated testosterone production. Your doctor may order other tests if your levels are exceedingly high.
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.
Both testosterone and 5α-DHT are metabolized mainly in the liver. Approximately 50% of testosterone is metabolized via conjugation into testosterone glucuronide and to a lesser extent testosterone sulfate by glucuronosyltransferases and sulfotransferases, respectively. An additional 40% of testosterone is metabolized in equal proportions into the 17-ketosteroids androsterone and etiocholanolone via the combined actions of 5α- and 5β-reductases, 3α-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase, and 17β-HSD, in that order. Androsterone and etiocholanolone are then glucuronidated and to a lesser extent sulfated similarly to testosterone. The conjugates of testosterone and its hepatic metabolites are released from the liver into circulation and excreted in the urine and bile. Only a small fraction (2%) of testosterone is excreted unchanged in the urine.
For people who are worried about low or high testosterone, a doctor may perform a blood test to measure the amount of the hormone in the patient's blood. When doctors find low-T, they may prescribe testosterone therapy, in which the patient takes an artificial version of the hormone. This is available in the following forms: a gel to be applied to the upper arms, shoulders or abdomen daily; a skin patch put on the body or scrotum twice a day; a solution applied to the armpit; injections every two or three weeks; a patch put on the gums twice a day; or implants that last four to six months.
Vascular damage may result from radiation therapy to the pelvis and prostate in the treatment of prostate cancer.  Both the blood vessels and the nerves to the penis may be affected. Radiation damage to the crura of the penis, which are highly susceptible to radiation damage, can induce ED. Data indicate that 50% of men undergoing radiation therapy lose erectile function within 5 years after completing therapy; fortunately, some respond to one of the PDE5 inhibitors.
Given the high risk of priapism during escalation of therapy for intracorporeal injection, it is recommended that the drugs be administered in a supervised office visit initially and that the patient be given a well-articulated plan for treatment of priapism if it occurs. Escalation guidelines for alprostadil alone vary, but a general guideline is to start at 2.5 mcg and increase by 2.5 mcg to a dose of 5 mcg and then in increments of 5 mcg to 10 mcg until an erection sufficient for penetration, not lasting more than 1 hour, is achieved. If there is no response to the initial 2.5-mcg dose, escalation dosing can be slightly more liberal.34 A European prospective trial of PGE1 alone found 91% of the 54 patients completing the 4 years of the study reported good or better tolerability and satisfaction with therapy.35
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."
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).
Another effect that can limit treatment is polycythemia, which occurs due to various stimulatory effects of testosterone on erythropoiesis (Zitzmann and Nieschlag 2004). Polycythemia is known to produce increased rates of cerebral ischemia and there have been reports of stroke during testosterone induced polycythaemia (Krauss et al 1991). It is necessary to monitor hematocrit during testosterone treatment, and hematocrit greater than 50% should prompt either a reduction of dose if testosterone levels are high or high-normal, or cessation of treatment if levels are low-normal. On the other hand, late onset hypogonadism frequently results in anemia which will then normalize during physiological testosterone replacement.
Psychological Causes of ED – Between 10% and 20% of ED cases have a psychological cause. Because arousal starts in the brain, psychological issues can be a significant contributing factor to erectile dysfunction. Mental health conditions like depression or anxiety can negatively impact your libido, making it more difficult for you to become aroused.
The participants were seen every 4 weeks. Blood was taken to measure hormone levels, and questionnaires were given to assess physical function, health status, vitality, and sexual function. Body fat and muscle measurements were also taken at the beginning and end of the 16 weeks. The study was funded in part by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Results appeared in the September 12, 2013, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Radical prostatectomy for the treatment of prostate cancer poses a significant risk of ED. A number of factors are associated with the chance of preserving erectile function. If both nerves that course on the lateral edges of the prostate can be saved, the chance of maintaining erectile function is reasonable. The odds depend on the age of the patient. Men younger than 60 years have a 75-80% chance of preserving potency, but men older than 70 years have only a 10-15% chance.
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
Testosterone may prove to be an effective treatment in female sexual arousal disorders, and is available as a dermal patch. There is no FDA approved androgen preparation for the treatment of androgen insufficiency; however, it has been used off-label to treat low libido and sexual dysfunction in older women. Testosterone may be a treatment for postmenopausal women as long as they are effectively estrogenized.
This is one of many types of constricting devices placed at the base of the penis to diminish venous outflow and improve the quality and duration of the erection. This is particularly useful in men who have a venous leak and are only able to obtain partial erections that they are unable to maintain. These constricting devices may be used in conjunction with oral agents, injection therapy, and vacuum devices.
The association between low testosterone and ED is not entirely clear. Although these 2 processes certainly overlap in some instances, they are distinct entities. Some 2-21% of men have both hypogonadism and ED; however, it is unclear to what degree treating the former will improve erectile function.  About 35-40% of men with low testosterone see an improvement in their erections with testosterone replacement; however, almost 65% of these men see no improvement. 
This is similar to magnetic resonance imaging. Magnetic resonance angiography uses magnetic fields and radio waves to provide detailed images of the blood vessels. Doctors may inject a "contrast agent" into the person's bloodstream that causes vascular tissues to stand out against other tissues. The contrast agent provides for enhanced information regarding blood supply and vascular anomalies.