What is erectile dysfunction?
Nitric oxide (NO) can help you treat erectile dysfunction (ED). It’s most helpful to individuals that have erectile dysfunction due to neurological issues.
Erectile dysfunction is when a male has issues getting or maintaining an erection long enough to get sexual satisfaction. It’s caused by physiological issues and is also linked to self-esteem issues and failing partner relationships. Erectile dysfunction can have negative effects on your quality of life.
The main symptoms of erectile dysfunction include a persistent issue with getting and maintaining an erection and poor libido (sex drive). Sometimes you may get a premature or delayed ejaculation. Consider talking to your doctor if you get any of those symptoms.
There are two broad classifications of erectile dysfunction, depending on the cause:
- Psychogenic or mixed erectile dysfunction. This is when you fail to get or sustain an erection because of psychological issues (thoughts or feelings) without any physical causes.
- Organic erectile dysfunction. This type of erectile dysfunction occurs due to an underlying condition (like diabetes) or physical issue.
Main causes of erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction can occur due to various factors. They include:
What is nitric oxide (NO)?
Nitric oxide is an essential molecule that controls the blood flow throughout your body. It can improve your muscle recovery, thus increasing your performance. You can get nitric oxide from supplements or nitrate-rich foods like beetroot, arugula, and carrots. Your body also produces nitric oxide gas naturally by relaxing your blood vessels to increase blood flow.
Because of its performance enhancement properties, you may find nitric oxide in pre-workout supplements that claim to enhance your endurance. But those supplements don’t contain nitric oxide. Nitric oxide only exists in gas form. The supplements contain nitrates you can find in amino acids (L-arginine and L-citrulline). Some supplements may use powdered or liquid beets as a source of nitrates.
The body transforms the amino acids into nitric oxide, which it then uses to widen your blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Since you already produce nitric oxide naturally, you will rarely need supplements. They may be most beneficial if you have a deficiency.
Despite the hype around nitric oxide and performance enhancement, the research is not conclusive. But some studies say that it may help reduce muscle soreness and boost your performance during exercise.
Nitric oxide and erectile dysfunction
Research on the efficacy of nitric oxide in treating erectile dysfunction has found that taking supplements with high doses of the amino acid L-arginine may help improve sexual function — but only if you have a true nitric oxide deficiency. The deficiency may be due to a reduction in excretion or natural production of the gas.
Nitric oxide deficiency could be a reason why you can’t get or sustain an erection. If you have a deficiency, getting nitric oxide from elsewhere may help you regain your sexual function.
How is erectile dysfunction diagnosed?
After talking to your doctor about your condition, they may take your medical history (asking questions) and do a physical exam. That may be enough to make a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction and recommend the best treatment. If your condition is more severe, your doctor may decide to do further investigation to check for possible underlying conditions. That may include doing tests or getting other specialists involved.
They may do tests such as:
- Physical exam. A physical exam may involve your doctor keenly examining your penis and testicles or nerves to check your sensation.
- Psychological exam. A psychological exam involves a series of questions your doctor may ask you. The questions help them assess whether you have psychological or mental health issues like depression that might be causing your erectile dysfunction.
- Blood test. Your doctor may take your blood sample to a lab to check for severe health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or low testosterone.
- Ultrasound. An ultrasound is an imaging test where your doctor can take a video image of the blood vessels in your penis to check if you have issues with your blood flow. The ultrasound machine has a device called a transducer, which looks like a wand, that the doctor holds over the area they want to check.
- Urinalysis (urine tests). Your doctor may test your urine to determine if you have chronic conditions like diabetes.
Other ways to treat ED
If your erectile dysfunction is due to an underlying health condition, your doctor may decide to treat the disease. They may also choose to recommend several treatment options while explaining the risks and benefits. Your doctor may take into consideration you and your partner’s preferences when recommending treatment.
Some treatment methods that your doctor may recommend are:
- Medications. Your doctor may prescribe some medications to help with sexual function. Examples of such drugs include oral sildenafil (viagra), avanafil (stendra), tadalafil (adcirca, cialis) and, vardenafil (levitra, staxyn). These medications help improve the effects of nitric oxide in your penis muscles. That increases the blood flow to your penis, and you get an erection. But they don’t cause any sexual stimulation. You have to be stimulated first to get an erection.
- Penis pumps (vacuum erection device). This is a vacuum device with a hollow tube powered by a battery or your hand. You place the tube over your penis, and the pump sucks the air out of the tube, creating a vacuum and pulling blood into your penis.
- Penile implants. These are inflatable or bendable implants that are surgically placed into your penis to keep your penis firm to improve sexual performance.
- Physical exercise. Some studies have found that regular physical exercise helps improve and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. Your doctor may talk to you about an exercise plan to increase your daily activity level.
- Counseling. After determining that your erectile dysfunction is due to psychological issues, your doctor may recommend you get psychological counseling.
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Medically Reviewed on 6/16/2022
BJU International: “Effect of oral administration of high-dose nitric oxide donor L-arginine in men with organic erectile dysfunction: results of a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Erectile Dysfunction.”
DermNet NZ: “Nitric oxide”
Future Science OA: “Development and therapeutic applications of nitric oxide releasing materials to treat erectile dysfunction.”
Mayo Clinic: “Erectile dysfunction,” “L-arginine: Does it lower blood pressure?”
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency: “Do Athletes Really Need Nitric Oxide Supplements to Boost Performance?”