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Impotence or, more clinical, erectile dysfunction is the inability to maintain
an erection of the penis for satisfactory sexual intercourse regardless of the
capability of ejaculation. The recent introduction of effective medication has
increased awareness of this previously little appreciated disorder.
Signs and symptoms
Erectile dysfunction is characterised by the inability to maintain erection.
Normal erections during sleep and in the early morning suggest a psychogenic
cause, while loss of these erections may signify underlying disease, often
cardiovascular in origin. Other causes leading to erectile dysfunction are
diabetes mellitus (causing neuropathy) or hypogonadism (decreased testosterone
levels due to disease affecting the testicles or the pituitary gland).
Penile erection is managed by two different mechanisms. The first one is the
reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft and
the second is the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic stimuli.
The first one uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal
cord, whereas the second one uses the limbic system of the brain. In both
conditions an intact neurologic system is required for a successful and
complete erection. Stimulation of penile shaft by the nervous system gives rise
to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth
muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), subsequently
giving rise to penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone
(produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the
development of a healthy male erectile system. As can be understood from the
mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal
deficiency, disorders of the neurologic system, lack of adequate penile blood
supply or psychological problems.
A few causes of impotence may be iatrogenic (medically caused). Various
medications intended to control blood pressure or to modify central nervous
system response, may inhibit erection by denying blood supply or by altering
nerve activity. Surgical intervention for a number of different conditions may
remove anatomical structures necessary to erection, damage nerves, or impair
Western Medicine Treatment
Treatment depends on the cause. Testosterone supplements may be used for cases
with hormonal deficiency. However, usually the cause is lack of adequate penile
blood supply as a result of age-dependent damage of inner walls of blood
vessels. Previously, medical substances (e.g. apomorphine) were used to be
directly injected into the erectile tissue of penile shaft to treat impotence.
In some cases refractory to the medical treatment, a penile implant (penile
prosthesis) could be advised. After the discovery of orally active agents that
increase the efficacy of NO, which dilates the blood vessels of corpora
cavernosa, more conservative methods were started to be used.
Sildenafil citrate (Viagra®) is an oral agent that blocks specific
phosphodiesterases. NO acts on blood vessels by increasing the levels of cyclic
guanosine monophosphate, which is required for dilation of the vessels.
Phosphodiesterases block this substance and reduce the effect of NO on erectile
tissue. By using sildenafil, NO's effects are increased and a more sustained
penile erection can be achieved. Other agents with less side effects and
holding promise as an effective oral treatment for penile erectile dysfunction
are currently being developed. Two newer drugs now available for the treatment
of erectile dysfunction are tadalafil (Cialis®) and vardenafil (Levitra®).
These agents have a similar mode of action to Sildenafil.
The new drug PT-141 is not acting on the vascular system like the former
compounds but increases sexual desire and drive in male as well as female. It
is apllied as a nasal spray PT-141 and works by activation of melanocortin
receptors in the brain.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
There are actually many things that TCM can offer. There are many a lot of
herbs that are commonly used to either facilitate the growth or maturity of the
reproductive system. There are ones that will increase the secretion of sex
hormones. And there are ones that will enhance sexual desire. And all these in
a way do go hand in hand. The treatmen is very specific and “designed” for
every patient appart according to his condition.
There are many causes of impotence. They could be psychological, or physical;
complication of a disease, or side effect of a drug. TCM identifies exactly
what is the cause, then both the cause and the symptom simultaneously are
Acupuncture is appropriate, too, but perhaps not as effective. One of the
biggest differences in treatment of impotence between Western medicine and
Chinese medicine is Chinese medicine really tries to build up the person from
the foundations, while Western medicine is usually looking for a quick fix.
“So things like surgical devices or things like Viagra (are) really looking to
fix the patient for that specific time. Chinese medicine is exactly the
opposite. There is nothing that will really work that fast.
So, if you take a Chinese herb pill half an hour before sexual activity, it's
probably not going to work. But instead, what it does is, it gradually
strengthens your body. It builds up your body's natural hormone system. So the
person regains normal sexual functions. In this case it may take anywhere
between two weeks to one month before this person feels better. But once this
person feels better, they're going to feel better for a much longer period”