ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
Although not proven, it is likely that erectile dysfunction can be prevented by good general health, paying particular attention to body weight, exercise, and cigarette smoking. For example, heart disease and diabetes are problems that can cause erectile dysfunction, and both are preventable through lifestyle changes such as sensible eating and regular exercise. Furthermore, early diagnosis and treatment of associated conditions like diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol may prevent or delay erectile dysfunction, or stop the erectile dysfunction from getting more serious.
Studies have demonstrated reduced testosterone levels in men with heart failure as well as other endocrine changes (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003). Treatment of cardiac failure with chronic mechanical circulatory support normalizes many of these changes, including testosterone levels (Noirhomme et al 1999). More recently, two double-blind randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment for men with low or low-normal serum testosterone levels and heart failure have shown improvements in exercise capacity and symptoms (Pugh et al 2004; Malkin et al 2006). The mechanism of these benefits is currently unclear, although a study of the acute effects of buccal testosterone given to men with chronic cardiac failure under invasive monitoring showed that testosterone increased cardiac index and reduced systemic vascular resistance (Pugh et al 2003). Testosterone may prove useful in the management of cardiac failure but further research is needed.
The neurovascular events that ultimately occur result in the inhibition of adrenergic tone and the release of the nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurotransmitter, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is believed to be released from nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves and endothelial cells. It subsequently stimulates the guanylate cyclase enzyme system in penile smooth muscle. This results in increased levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and ultimately in smooth muscle relaxation, enhancement of arterial inflow, and veno-occlusion, producing adequate firmness for sexual activity.
A related issue is the potential use of testosterone as a coronary vasodilator and anti-anginal agent. Testosterone has been shown to act as a vasodilator of coronary arteries at physiological concentrations during angiography (Webb, McNeill et al 1999). Furthermore men given a testosterone injection prior to exercise testing showed improved performance, as assessed by ST changes compared to placebo (Rosano et al 1999; Webb, Adamson et al 1999). Administration of one to three months of testosterone treatment has also been shown to improve symptoms of angina and exercise test performance (Wu and Weng 1993; English et al 2000; Malkin, Pugh, Morris et al 2004). Longer term studies are underway. It is thought that testosterone improves angina due its vasodilatory action, which occurs independently of the androgen receptor, via blockade of L-type calcium channels at the cell membrane of the vascular smooth muscle in an action similar to the dihydropyridine calcium-channel blockers such as nifedipine (Hall et al 2006).
Modern drug therapy for ED made a significant advance in 1983, when British physiologist Giles Brindley dropped his trousers and demonstrated to a shocked Urodynamics Society audience his papaverine-induced erection. The drug Brindley injected into his penis was a non-specific vasodilator, an alpha-blocking agent, and the mechanism of action was clearly corporal smooth muscle relaxation. The effect that Brindley discovered established the fundamentals for the later development of specific, safe, and orally effective drug therapies.[better source needed][better source needed]
When many people think of someone with a high level of testosterone, they may picture a man loaded with strength, sexual prowess, and machismo. But while high-T has been correlated with all those things, it’s also been correlated with aggression, sexual misconduct, and violence. One of testosterone’s most common uses—as a performance-enhancing steroid—illustrates both sides of the hormone. Injecting steroids can be a quick way for athletes to dramatically improve performance, but the side effects can also be extreme, and can include excessive body hair growth, sexual dysfunction, and the hard-to-corral anger known as “roid rage.”
However, a review of a United Kingdom medical record database found no evidence that the use of 5-alpha reductase inhibitors independently increase the risk for ED. In 71,849 men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), the risk of ED was not increased with the use of finasteride or dutasteride only (odds ratio [OR] 0.94), or a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor plus an alpha blocker (OR 0.92) compared with an alpha blocker only. In addition, the risk of ED was not increase in 12 346 men prescribed finasteride 1 mg for alopecia, compared with unexposed men with alopecia (OR 0.95). The risk of ED did increase with longer duration of BPH, regardless of drug exposure. 
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.  This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
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^ Mehta PH, Jones AC, Josephs RA (Jun 2008). "The social endocrinology of dominance: basal testosterone predicts cortisol changes and behavior following victory and defeat" (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 94 (6): 1078–93. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.336.2502. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1248. PMID 18505319. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 19, 2009.
An analysis of 14 studies involving more than 90,000 patients with ED confirmed the relation between ED and an increased risk of cardiovascular events and mortality.  Compared with patients without ED, those with ED had a 44% increased risk of cardiovascular events, a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality, a 62% increased risk of MI, and a 39% increased risk of cerebrovascular events. Treatment of ED, either through lifestyle interventions or by pharmacologic means, may improve prognosis and reduce risk.
Overall, it seems that both estrogen and testosterone are important for normal bone growth and maintenance. Deficiency or failure of action of the sex hormones is associated with osteoporosis and minimal trauma fractures. Estrogen in males is produced via metabolism of testosterone by aromatase and it is therefore important that androgens used for the treatment of hypogonadism be amenable to the action of aromatase to yield maximal positive effects on bone. There is data showing that testosterone treatment increases bone mineral density in aging males but that these benefits are confined to hypogonadal men. The magnitude of this improvement is greater in the spine than in the hip and further studies are warranted to confirm or refute any differential effects of testosterone at these important sites. Improvements seen in randomized controlled trials to date may underestimate true positive effects due to relatively short duration and/or baseline characteristics of the patients involved. There is no data as yet to confirm that the improvement in bone density with testosterone treatment reduces fractures in men and this is an important area for future study.
"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."
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:
Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology
Levels of testosterone naturally decrease with age, but exactly what level constitutes "low T," or hypogonadism, is controversial, Harvard Medical School said. Testosterone levels vary wildly, and can even differ depending on the time of day they're measured (levels tend to be lower in the evenings). The National Institutes of Health includes the following as possible symptoms of low testosterone:
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Overall, few patients have a compelling contraindication to testosterone treatment. The majority of men with late onset hypogonadism can be safely treated with testosterone but all will require monitoring of prostate parameters HDL cholesterol, hematocrit and psychological state. It is also wise to monitor symptoms of sleep apnea. Other specific concerns may be raised by the mode of delivery such as local side effects from transdermal testosterone.
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. 
Oral/buccal (by mouth). The buccal dose comes in a patch that you place above your incisor (canine or "eyetooth"). The medication looks like a tablet but you should not chew or swallow it. The drug is released over 12 hours. This method has fewer harmful side effects on the liver than if the drug is swallowed, but it may cause headaches or cause irritation where you place it.
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"Low T" is anything but inevitable. BMJ's Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin says that around 80 percent of 60-year-old men, and half of those in their eighties, have testosterone levels within the normal range for younger men. It concluded, "The evidence that an age-related reduction in testosterone levels causes specific symptoms is weak." The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) meanwhile has not approved testosterone use to improve strength, athletic performance, physical appearance, or prevent aging. And a 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine ("Testosterone and Aging: Clinical Research Directions") called TRT for age-related testosterone decline a "scientifically unproven method."
Once a complete sexual and medical history has been completed, appropriate laboratory studies should be conducted. In the initial evaluation of ED, sophisticated laboratory testing is rarely necessary. For example, serum testosterone (and sometimes prolactin) is typically only useful when the patient demonstrates hypogonadal features or testicular atrophy, or when clinical history is suggestive. Additional hormonal evaluation may include thyroid stimulating hormone in those with a clinical suspicion of hypothyroidism or appropriate diabetes screening in those presenting with a concern for impaired glucose metabolism. If the patient has not been evaluated with a lipid panel and hyperlipidemia is suspected, measurement and appropriate referral to internal medicine or cardiology is recommended. In most cases, a tentative diagnosis can be established with a complete sexual and medical history, physical examination, and limited or no laboratory testing.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
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).
Although vardenafil does not seem to produce significant clinical QT prolongation, it has been suggested that it be avoided in patients who have congenital QT prolongation abnormalities and in patients using class I antiarrhythmic drugs, such as quinidine and procainamide. It is also best to avoid the use of vardenafil with class III antiarrhythmic drugs, such as amiodarone or sotalol.
Another recent development is the production of adhesive tablets which are applied twice daily to the buccal mucosa on the gum above the incisor teeth. The tablets gradually release testosterone into the systemic venous circulation and steady state physiological concentrations are achieved in most patients within two days (Ross et al 2004). Some patients do not like the feeling of the tablet in the mouth or find that there is an abnormal taste in the mouth, but local adverse effects are usually mild and transient (Wang, Swerdloff et al 2004).
Low testosterone levels may contribute to decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, fragile bones, and other health issues. Having low testosterone levels may also indicate an underlying medical condition. See your doctor if you suspect you have low testosterone. A simple blood test is all it takes to check if your testosterone falls within the normal range.