Erectile Dysfunction: Can It Be Prevented?

As the old adage says, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” For medical experts, erectile dysfunction (ED) cannot accurately be predicted, but the causes have been documented. Changes in the lifestyle choices of the man may reduce his risk of ED. If prevention is not completely possible, then diagnoses at an early stage, coupled with the proper treatment, can win the battle against ED.

A Look into the Past

The patient’s medical history is an important database that helps doctors find out causes for a man’s ED. Impotence is linked to many other health problems, especially that of the cardiovascular system and nervous system. The doctor examines the list of medications previously or currently taken by the patient, as many drugs are known to have ED as a side effect. Alcoholism and substance abuse in a patient’s history can tell a lot to a practitioner as to why ED is experienced.

Let’s Get Physical

Physical tests are performed to know the overall health of the patient. Observation of the hair and balding patterns can indicate if he has a hormonal imbalance or not, as low testosterone levels contribute to ED. Checking the blood pressure and pulse rate tells if the patient has a problem with his blood flow, which consequently decreases supply to the penis during an erection. The nerves of the penis are also tested for sensitivity. The bulbocavernosus reflex test involves squeezing the head of the penis and measuring the time it takes for the reflex action to occur, which is contraction of the anus. If the penis is not sensitive to touch, then a nervous system problem may be the cause.

To the Lab!

Analysis of the patient’s samples in the laboratory can provide the doctor an estimate of the health of the man’s systems. Blood samples are tested for cell count and level of testosterone. A patient with low-level testosterone tends to have decreased sexual desire, so he is a possible candidate for ED. A lipid profile shows the amount of fat or cholesterol in the body, to help determine risks of heart disease and circulation problems. A urinalysis also tells how well a patient’s excretory system functions.

Rise of the Machines

Many clinics today have diagnostic equipment that gives a more detailed summary of the factors that can cause ED in a patient.  A duplex ultrasound is first performed by injecting an erection-inducer into the penis, while an ultrasound machine examines dilation of the blood vessels and measures blood pressure. The results are compared when a penis is in a non-erect state, and data helps detect any scarring of the tissue or vessel leakage and blockage.

Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) occurs when a patient has erections while asleep. Normally, five to six erections are experienced during rapid eye movement (REM), or the dream state. The patient is closely monitored while asleep, and gauges measure the circumference and rigidity of the penis during NPT. If a patient does not experience NPT, it does not necessarily indicate a possibility for ED. Angiography is a non-invasive method in which a computer image of the blood vessels is made with an x-ray or a magnetic resonance imager.  This helps doctors observe any abnormalities in the vascular tissue that can eventually lead to ED.