Erectile dysfunction: a review of a common problem in rapid evolution

Prim Care Update Ob Gyns. 2000 May 1;7(3):124-129. doi: 10.1016/s1068-607x(00)00033-0.


Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been defined by the National Institutes of Health Consensus Conference in 1993 as the inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection adequate for penetration and completion of satisfactory intercourse.1 Erectile dysfunction, the preferred term, is more accurate and less pejorative than impotence.An estimated 20-30 million American men are affected with ED of varying degrees of severity. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study published in 1994 reviewed 1,211 men between the ages of 40 and 70; 52% reported ED with 9.6% having mild, 22.2% moderate, and 17.2% complete or severe ED.2 The National Health and Social Life Survey, authored by Laumann et al.,3 reviewed a population of men and women between the ages of 18 and 59. Of note, female sexual dysfunction exceeded male sexual dysfunction, with 43% of women complaining of sexual function problems. Interestingly, except for lubrication, this seemed to decrease with age in women. On the other hand, 31% of the men complained of sexual problems that increased with age.Erectile dysfunction is an age-dependent problem. Approximately 2% of men are affected at 40 years of age and about 25% or more at 65 years of age.4 However, ED is not an inevitable result of aging. Rather, as a man matures it is most likely that he will experience more of the neurovascular insults resulting in ED.The development of an erection and satisfactory sexual function is a complex process. As suggested by Melman et al.,5 "Erection is truly at least a sensory-motor-neuro-hormonal-vascular-psycho-social-cultural-interpersonal event." There are two main classifications of ED, psychogenic and organic. Current thinking suggests that up to 80% of ED is primarily of organic etiology. Yet, there is always a psychogenic factor.6 Erectile dysfunction may signal serious underlying and potential life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and other neurologic and endocrine disorders. Therefore, questions regarding sexual function should be part of routine medical evaluation.