Purpose: Despite the well-established role of testosterone in enhancing libido, its exact contribution to erections in men remains unclear. The main objectives of this review are to clarify the role of testosterone in erectile function and evaluate its therapeutic value in men with erectile dysfunction (ED).
Methods: Review of the relevant literature (English, French, and Spanish) from 1939 to June 2005 was conducted using data sources from MEDLINE, endocrinology text books, and hand searching of cross-references from original articles and reviews. Clinical trials, animal studies, case reports, reviews, and guidelines of major associations were included.
Results: Animal and preliminary human studies suggest that testosterone may facilitate erection by acting as vasodilator of the penile arterioles and cavernous sinusoids. Following castration, most, but not all, men had partial or complete loss of erection. Hypogonadism is not a common finding in ED, occurring in about 5% of cases, and in general, there is lack of association between serum testosterone levels, when present in normal or moderately low levels, and erectile function. Most trials using testosterone for treatment of ED in hypogonadal men suffer from methodological problems and report inconsistent results, but overall, suggest that testosterone may be superior to placebo. Erectile function is more likely to improve with testosterone therapy in patients with severe degrees of hypogonadism. Testosterone treatment may ameliorate the response to the phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitors in hypogonadal men and men with low-normal serum testosterone. Repeated measurement of morning serum total testosterone is a fairly accurate and easy method to evaluate androgenecity, but measurement of free or bioavailable testosterone is recommended in conditions that alter the levels of sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), such as in the elderly and in obesity.
Conclusions: Available data suggest that in most men circulating levels of testosterone, well below the normal range, are essential for normal erection and that higher levels of serum testosterone may not have major impact on erectile function. Screening for hypogonadism in all men with ED is necessary to identify cases of severe hypogonadism and some cases of mild to moderate hypogonadism, who may benefit from testosterone treatment.