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How is Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Treated?

The treatment for ED starts with taking care of your heart and vascular health. Your doctor may point out ‘risk factors' that can be changed or improved.

You may be asked to change certain food habits, stop smoking, increase workouts or stop using drugs or alcohol. You may be offered alternatives to the drugs you take. (Never stop or change prescription drugs without first talking to your health care provider.)

Your health care provider may also suggest treating emotional problems. These could stem from relationship conflicts, life's stressors, depression or anxiety from past problems with ED (performance anxiety).
The treatments below are available to treat ED directly.

ED Treatments

Non-invasive treatments are often tried first. Most of the best-known treatments for ED work well and are safe. Still, it helps to ask your health care provider about side effects that could result from each option:

  • Oral drugs or pills known as phosphodiesterase type-5 inhibitors are most often prescribed in the U.S. for ED (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, Stendra)
  • Testosterone Therapy (when low testosterone is detected in blood testing)
  • Penile Injections (ICI, intracavernosal Alprostadil)
  • Intraurethral medication (IU, Alprostadil)
  • Vacuum Erection Devices
  • Penile Implants
  • Surgery to bypass penile artery damage for some younger men with a history of severe pelvic trauma. Penile vascular surgery is not recommended for older men with hardened arteries.

Oral Drugs (PDE5 inhibitors)

Drugs known as PDE type-5 inhibitors increase penile blood flow. These are the only oral agents approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of ED.

  • Viagra® (sildenafil citrate)
  • Levitra® (vardenafil HCl)
  • Cialis® (tadalafil)
  • Stendra® (avanafil)

For best results, men with ED take these pills about an hour or two before having sex. The drugs require normal nerve function to the penis. PDE5 inhibitors improve on normal erectile responses helping blood flow into the penis. Use these drugs as directed. About 7 out of 10 men do well and have better erections. Response rates are lower for Diabetics and cancer patients.

If you are taking nitrates for your heart, you SHOULD NOT take any PDE5 inhibitors. Always speak with your health care provider before using a PDE5 inhibitor to learn how it might affect your health.

Most often, the side effects of PDE5 inhibitors are mild and often last just a short time. The most common side effects are:

  • Headache
  • Stuffy nose
  • Facial flushing
  • Muscle aches
  • Indigestion

In rare cases, the drug Viagra ® can cause blue-green shading to vision that lasts for a short time. In rare cases, the drug Cialis® can cause or increase back pain or aching muscles in the back. In most cases, the side effects are linked to PDE5 inhibitor effects on other tissues in the body, meaning they are working to increase blood flow to your penis and at the same time impacting other vascular tissues in your body. These are not ‘allergic reactions'.

Testosterone Therapy

In those rare cases where a low sex drive and low blood levels of Testosterone are at fault for ED, Testosterone Therapy may fix normal erections or help when combined with ED drugs (PDE type 5 inhibitors).


Vacuum Erection Device


Vacuum Erection Device

A vacuum erection device is a plastic tube that slips over the penis, making a seal with the skin of the body. A pump at the other end of the tube makes a low-pressure vacuum around the erectile tissue, which results in an erection. An elastic ring is then slipped onto the base of the penis. This holds the blood in the penis (and keeps it hard) for up to 30 minutes. With proper training, 75 out of 100 men can get a working erection using a vacuum erection device.

Intracavernosal (ICI) and Urethra (IU) Therapies

If oral drugs don't work, the drug Alprostadil is approved for use in men with ED. This drug comes in two forms, based on how it is to be used: intracavernosal injection (called "ICI") or through the urethra (called "IU therapy").

Self-Injection Therapy

Alprostadil is injected into the side of penis with a very fine needle. It's of great value to have the first shot in the doctor's office before doing this on your own. Self-injection lessons should be given in your doctor's office by an experienced professional. The success rate for getting an erection firm enough to have sex is as high as 85% with this treatment. Many men who do not respond to oral PDE5 inhibitors can be ‘rescued' with ICI.

ICI Alprostadil may be used as a mixture with two other drugs to treat ED. This combination therapy called "bimix or trimix" is stronger than alprostadil alone and has become standard treatment for ED. Only the Alprostadil ingredient is FDA approved for ED. The amount of each drug used can be changed based on the severity of your ED, by an experienced health professional. You will be trained by your health professional on how to inject, how much to inject and how to safely raise the drug's dosage if necessary.

ICI therapy often produces a reliable erection, which comes down after 20-30 minutes or with climax. Since the ICI erection is not regulated by your penile nerves, you should not be surprised if the erection lasts after orgasm. The most common side effect of ICI therapy is a prolonged erection. Prolonged erections (>1 hour) can be reversed by a second injection (antidote) in the office.

Men who have penile erections lasting longer than two to four hours should seek Emergency Room care. Priapism is a prolonged erection, lasting longer than four hours. It is very painful. Failure to undo priapism will lead to permanent penile damage and untreatable ED.

Intraurethral (IU) Therapy

For IU therapy, a tiny medicated pellet of the drug, Alprostadil, is placed in the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body). Using the drug this way means you don't have to give yourself a shot, unfortunately it may not work as well as ICI. Like ICI therapy, IU Alprostadil should be tested in the office, before home usage.

The most common side effects of IU alprostadil are a burning feeling in the penis. If an erection lasts for over four hours, it will need medical attention to make it go down.

Surgical Treatment

The main surgical treatment of ED involves insertion of a penile implant (also called penile prostheses). Because penile vascular surgery is not recommended for aging males who have failed oral PDE5 inhibitors, ICI or IU therapies, implants are the next step for these patients. Although placement of a penile implant is a surgery which carries risks, they have the highest rates of success and satisfaction among ED treatment options.

Penile implants are devices that are placed fully inside your body. They make a stiff penis that lets you have normal sex. This is an excellent choice to improve uninterupted intimacy and makes relations more spontaneous.

There are two types of penile implants.

Semi rigid Implant (Bendable)

The simplest kind of implant is made from two easy-to-bend rods that are most often made of silicone. These silicone rods give the man's penis the firmness needed for sexual penetration. The implant can be bent downward for peeing or upward for sex.

Inflatable Implant

With an inflatable implant, fluid-filled cylinders are placed lengthwise in the penis. Tubing joins these cylinders to a pump placed inside the scrotum (between the testicles). When the pump is engaged, pressure in the cylinders inflate the penis and makes it stiff. Inflatable implants make a normal looking erection and are natural feeling for your partner. Your surgeon may suggest a lubricant for your partner. With the implant, men can control firmness and, sometimes, the size of the erection. Implants allows a couple to be spontaneously intimate. There is generally no change to a man's feeling or orgasm.

Penile Pump Implant - Inflatable

What is the Surgery Like?

Penile implants are most often placed under anesthesia. If a patient has a systemic, skin, or urinary tract infection, this surgery should be postponed until all infections are treated. If a man is on blood thinners, then he may need to talk with a medical expert about stopping the medications for elective surgery and healing.

Most often, one small surgical cut is made. The cut is either above the penis where it joins the belly, or under the penis where it joins the scrotum. No tissue is removed. Blood loss is typically small. A patient will either go home on the same day or spend one night in the hospital.

Recovery Time after Penile Implants:

  • Most men will feel pain and will feel better with a narcotic pain-relief drug for one to two weeks. After the first week, over- the-counter pain drugs (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen) may be substituted for narcotic pain drugs.
  • Discomfort, bruising and swelling after the surgery will last for a few weeks. 
  • For the first month, men should limit their physical activity. The surgeon will explain when and how much exercise to do during the healing period.
  • Men most often start having sex with their penile implants by eight weeks after surgery. If there is persisting swelling or pain, the use of the implant may be delayed. The surgeon or health care expert in the surgeon's office will talk about how to inflate and deflate the implant.

There are risks to prosthetic surgery and patients are counselled before the procedure. If there is a post-operative infection, the implant will likely be removed. The devices are reliable, but in the case of mechanical malfunction, the device or a part of the device will need to be replaced surgically. If a penile prosthesis is removed, other non-surgical treatments may no longer work.

Most men with penile implants and their partners say that they're satisfied with the results, and they return to more spontaneous intimacy.

Clinical Trials

Several restorative or regenerative treatments are under investigation for the future treatment of ED:

  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) - low-intensity shock waves that aim to fix the erectile tissues and help restore natural erections.
  • Intracavernosal injection of stem cells - to help cavernous tissue regrowth
  • Intracavernosal injection autologous platelet rich plasma (APRP) - to help cavernous tissue regrowth 

These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.

Supplements

Supplements are popular and often cheaper than prescription drugs for ED. However, supplements have not been tested to see how well they work or if they are a safe treatment for ED. Patients should know that many over-the-counter drugs have been found on drug testing to have ‘bootlegged' PDE 5 Inhibitors as their main ingredient. The amounts of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra or Stendra that may be in these supplements is not under quality control and may differ from pill to pill. The FDA has issued consumer warnings and alerts.

More information may be found here

Updated June 2018