Erectile dysfunction: symptom or disease?

Journal of endocrinological investigation

PubMedID: 15053250

Foresta C, Caretta N, Aversa A, Bettocchi C, Corona G, Mariani S, Rossato M. Erectile dysfunction: symptom or disease?. J Endocrinol Invest. 2004;27(1):80-95.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been defined by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as the inability to achieve and/or to maintain an erection for a sufficiently long period of time so as to permit satisfactory sexual intercourse. ED affects millions of men throughout the world and could have a negative influence on the individual's well-being as well as on the quality of life of affected subjects. Discordant data have been reported on ED epidemiology with prevalence ranging from 12% to 52%, probably depending on the different criteria utilized in the different studies for patient selection. ED is a symptom, sometimes the first, of different pathological conditions. In 15.7% of 45-yr-old patients with vascular ED a dynamic ergometric test has shown electrocardiographic alterations in the absence of any cardiac symptom. In 15% of the patients with ED, high fasting glucose plasma levels are discovered for the first time and in patients with ED and normal fasting glucose plasma levels the prevalence of undiagnosed diabetes mellitus is 12.1% after an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The different risk factors are often additive in the possible development of systemic vasculopathy, neuropathy and ED. ED, underestimated in clinical practice due to archaic prejudice which hinders the patient in spontaneously revealing the problem and the physicians in investigating it, can mark the point where evaluation and prevention of important diseases (such as diabetes, arterial hypertension, atherosclerosis) hitherto unknown by the patients, can begin. The physicians' cultural baggage must include the ability to identify the pathology that can determine ED and the ability to program a specific diagnostic workup. In this paper the different specialists involved in ED diagnosis agreed that a clinical approach which allows the identification of systemic pathologies contributing to the development of ED constitutes an improvement in disease prognosis and may either induce a spontaneous reduction of ED or facilitate its specific treatment.