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Maker of pacemakers for the heart and brain as well as stents for angioplasty, medical equipment manufacturer Medtronic recently announced it is testing arterial stents for treating impotence.

New Medtronics Stent May Help Restore Sexual Vigor to Men Who Have Circulatory Problems

These new stents for treating impotence would be used in much the same way as stents for opening coronary arteries. Placed in the pudendal artery to the penis, doctors hope that men who have problems with circulation to the penis once again will be able to have erections after the surgery.

Epidemiologists estimate that 18 to 30 million men in the United States and about 300 million men worldwide have varying degrees of erectile dysfunction. One of the clinical researchers in the Medtronics trial, Dr. Jason Rogers of the University of California Davis Medical Center told Reuter's Health that "ED (erectile dysfunction) is largely a vascular disease and that is why Medtronic Corporation is interested in this stent."

But poor circulation usually the cause of ED?

About 15% of American men aged 40 to 70 report complete ED, that is, a complete absence of nocturnal erections and a complete inability to have sexual intercourse. Another 34% of American men aged 40 to 70 report mild to moderate ED, the inability to achieve firm erections or to engage in vigorous intercourse.

Many men who have complete ED also have heart attacks and strokes, so it is natural to assume that ED has a strong vascular component, and that increasing circulation to the penis with a stent in the artery serving the penis would lead to improved sexual capacity. It is not reasonable to suppose, however, that increased circulation is always the answer. Just a few of the causes of ED include:

Cholesterol levels.

Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) are associated with ED.
  • Complex psychological issues.
In some men, erectile function returns without medical treatment after psychological issues are resolved.
  • Diabetes.
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage nerves leading to the penis. Good control of blood sugar levels often restores erectile capacity.
  • Medication.
Drugs for hypertension, depression, and high cholesterol can interfere with erectile function. Drugs for Parkinson's disease, however, can cause semi-permanent arousal.
  • Mental health issues.
One study of American military veterans being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found they were 3 times more likely to have ED.
  • Neurological trauma.
Long-distance bicycling compresses nerves to the penis and interferes with erectile function. (Some studies, however, suggest that riding a bicycle for up to 3 hours a week may help preserve erectile function.)
  • Organ failure.
Liver disease and kidney failure are often accompanied by ED.
  • Prostate surgery.
After the prostate is removed, there is no ejaculation. Erection may still be possible if nerves serving the prostate are not cut during surgery.
  • Smoking.
Use of tobacco increases risk of ED by 50%.

Only about 50% of cases of ED are caused by failures of circulation to the penis. At most, only about 50% of men who have ED can be helped by stents. Insist on sonography measuring arterial flow to the penis before consenting to surgery to implant stents. Many men who have ED are not helped by surgery, and some will be harmed.

  • Chung E, Brock GB. Emerging and Novel Therapeutic Approaches in the Treatment of Male Erectile Dysfunction. Curr Urol Rep. 2011 Sep 16. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Photo courtesy of russell_reno on Flickr: