The Urology Group
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Scientists once believed erectile dysfunction (ED)—was a problem only of the mind and not of the body. But recent data suggest a physical (or organic) cause in more than half of all cases, especially those involving older men. In any case, experts believe it affects up to 30 million American men. But what is involved in impotence and what is available to correct it? The following information should help you talk to your urologist about this frustrating issue, and some of the options—including vascular surgery—that may help solve it.
What happens under normal conditions?
The internal structure of the penis includes two cylinder-shaped chambers, the corpora cavernosa. Filled with spongy tissue containing smooth muscles, fibrous tissue, veins and arteries, these chambers run the length of the organ and are surrounded by a membrane cover, called the tunica albuginea. The urethra, the channel through which urine and semen exit the body, is located on the underside of the corpora cavernosa and is surrounded by spongy tissue. The longest part of the penis is the shaft, which ends in the glans. The meatus is the opening at the end of the urethra.
Erection is the culmination of a complex set of physical, sensory and mental events, involving both the nervous and vascular systems. It begins when physical or psychological stimulation (arousal) causes neurotransmitters or impulses in the brain (chemicals such as dopamine, acetylcholine and nitric oxide) to tell the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, allowing blood to fill the organ’s tiny open spaces. As the tunica’s fibrous or elastic tissues trap the blood, the penis engorges, or increases, in an erection. When stimulation finally ends, usually after ejaculation, pressure inside the organ decreases, as the muscles contract. Blood then flows from the penis and the penis returns to its normal shape and size.
What is erectile dysfunction (ED)?
Erectile dysfunction refers to the inability of a man to attain and maintain an erection sufficient for intercourse. It occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the penis or nerve damage, both of which can be triggered by a variety of factors. Scientists once believed that ED was an emotional issue alone. But today they know that physical factors are just as important as psychological triggers—stress, marital/family discord, job instability, depression and performance anxiety—in provoking this problem. It is important to note that hundreds of medications can also contribute to impotence while they fight allergic reactions, high blood pressure, ulcers, fungal infections, anxiety, depression and psychoses.