More MS news articles for August 2001

Erectile Dysfunction: The Bare Basics

Erectile dysfunction, or male impotence, is defined as the persistent inability to maintain or to achieve an erection of sufficient rigidity to have satisfying sex. It is one of the most commonly untreated medical disorders in the world. Approximately 30 million men in the U.S. have problems achieving or maintaining an erection, and the frequency of ED increases with age.

Only one in twenty of these men seek treatment. Men are often embarrassed about being impotent, and prefer to avoid sex rather than seek help. This is unfortunate, because consistent loss of erection is not normal at any age. In addition, loss of erection can be a symptom of a serious medical illness, such as coronary disease or advanced vascular disease. Finally, there are many effective treatments available for this difficult condition.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

More than 90 percent of all ED can be traced to a physical (organic) cause. This cause is usually due to insufficient blood flow to the penis and/or insufficient blood trapping in the penis after it becomes erect.

Difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection is often a predictor of vascular problems elsewhere in the body, including heart disease. Other factors that can effect your erection include:

Men who suffer from ED due to a physical problem, often have a psychological reaction to the ED, such as depression, anxiety, or loss of self-esteem. This is a normal reaction and should not be confused with psychological impotence. Men with ED just do not feel normal. As one patient once put it, "I do not feel like myself."

Is erectile dysfunction a normal part of aging or living?

While its incidence is highest among older men, difficulty maintaining an erection is not a normal part of aging. A healthy male with a willing partner can expect to have one or two usable erections a week well into his 80's.

Most chronic erection problems are not in a man's head, but in the blood vessels and muscle cells of the penis. Ninety percent of physical ED occurs because the penis loses flexibility and elasticity over time until its ability to trap and store blood becomes impaired. No matter how much blood flows into the penis, it leaks back out.

This leakage occurs because the muscle cells in the penis become thinner (atrophy) with age, and the cells' supporting network of collagen (connective tissue) is no longer renewed as quickly as it once was, becoming less elastic (stiff or less compliant). As a result, the muscles in the penis are unable to fully expand, which is a necessary condition for blood to remain in the penis and erection to occur.

Seek treatment!

An occasional loss of erection is nothing to worry about. But if it happens consistently, you should see a physician specialist in this area, either an internist specializing in erectile dysfunction, or a urologist. Only a urologist can treat all forms of ED, but the good news is, all forms of ED are treatable.