Guide to Good Health

Although precise data are unavailable, an estimated 10 million American men are impotent, with the incidence increasing with age. By age 65, 25% of men are impotent, and by age 80, about 80% of men are. Whereas impotence is primarily a dysfunctional vascular phenomenon, a number of mechanisms acting alone or interactively contribute to erectile failure. In this review, I consider current developments in its diagnosis and treatment.

In the past two decades, interest in the diagnosis and treatment of impotence has increased dramatically. Beginning with Leriche’s 1923 observation that aortoiliac occlusion caused impotence due to failure of the perfusion of the corporal bodies, surgeons became interested in the relationship between potency and penis structure. Aortic surgical interventions often produced impotence, and in the 1970s, techniques were developed to minimize this complication. These techniques included using penis pumps. It was also realized that vascular surgical procedures could be applied for corpus cavernosal revascularization.

Consequently, corpus cavernosal revascularization was emphasized in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1982, however, it was found that erection could be stimulated by taking a natural male enhancement pill (see for more information). This discovery helped to illuminate the processes of cavernosal smooth muscle function. Administering these agents intracorporally led to effective methods of testing and quantifying various aspects of erectile dysfunction as well as providing an important tool now used widely in diagnosis and treatment. Emphasis shifted from simple mechanistic efforts for increasing arterial inflow toward sophisticated investigations of corporal smooth muscle function. Important recent contributions include elaboration of the roles of nitric oxide, and oxygen tension in normal erection and the delineation of mediators of corporal muscle contraction and relaxation.

Penile erection results from a neurally mediated increase of arterial inflow into the corporal bodies along with a reduction or cessation of venous outflow. Recent findings support the idea that natural pills are involved in nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neural transmission, which leads to cavernosal smooth muscle relaxation required for normal erection. Histochemically, nerve fibers positive for the reduced form of nicotinamide-adenine dinucleotide phosphate and diaphorase are found in human penile tissue, indicating nitric oxide synthase activity. Other neurotransmitters such as vasoactive intestinal polypeptide and fibers positive for acetylcholinesterase are also present.

When the penis is flaccid, the corporal smooth muscle is contracted; contraction is due to a normally present overriding adrenergic tone. With erection, smooth muscle relaxation occurs. Various other receptors are present in penile smooth muscle, including those responsive to dopamine, histamine, prostaglandin, and probably several other substances.

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