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Impotence/Erectile Dysfunction (cont.)

What Are Surgical Treatments for Impotence?

Patient Comments

Penile prosthesis is the primary form of surgical therapy and is reserved for those men who fail, are intolerant of, or have contraindications to other forms of therapy. Currently, there are several different types of penile prostheses. The simplest is the malleable penile prosthesis, and the most complex is the three-piece inflatable penile prosthesis.

A malleable penile prosthesis usually consists of paired rods that are inserted surgically into each of the corpora cavernosa. The rods are stiff, and basically to have an erection, one bends them up and when finished with intercourse they are bent down. They do not change in length or width. The malleable penile prosthesis has the lowest risk of malfunction, however they have the least normal appearance.

The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of a pair of cylinders that are surgically placed into the corpora cavernosa, a reservoir containing sterile fluid that is placed in the abdomen and a pump that is placed in the scrotum. Tubing connects the cylinders, reservoir, and the cylinders. By pressing the pump several times, fluid is transferred from the reservoir into the cylinders. As the cylinders fill with fluid, they increase in width and this causes the erection. When one is finished with sexual activity, pressing the release valve on the pump allows the fluid to drain out of the cylinders back into the reservoir. Given the mechanical nature of the three-piece prosthesis, it has a greater risk of mechanical malfunction; however, modifications have been made such as lock out valves to prevent the prosthesis from automatically inflating as well as improving the tubing to prevent tubing leaks.

The placement of a penile prosthesis is typically an outpatient procedure and is typically performed through a single incision. All of the parts of the prosthesis are hidden under the skin. Antibiotics are given to decrease the risk of an infection. A catheter may be left in the penis in some men for a short period. After placement, there will be a time period of healing prior to the ability to use the prosthesis.

Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a penile prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. Different than a normal erection, the prosthesis does not elongate, in fact, some men notice that after the prosthesis is placed their penis appears a little shorter.

Infection is a concern after placement of a penile prosthesis and is reported as a complication in up to 20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If the device becomes infected more commonly, it needs to be removed. Another prosthesis can be placed after the infection is treated and the penile tissues have healed, but it is a difficult surgery. Erosion of the prosthesis, whereby it compresses through the corporal tissue, into the urethra may occur. Symptoms include pain, blood in the urine, discharge, abnormal stream, and malfunction of the prosthesis. If the prosthesis erodes, it will need to be removed. A catheter is placed to allow the urethra to heal.

Alternative Surgical Procedures

Similar to heart-disease-related to atherosclerosis (plaque formation within the blood vessels), the concept of bypassing or angiographically dilating and stenting penile arteries has been entertained recently with improvements in microvascular surgery and interventional radiology. However, the main drawback with most erectile dysfunction is the failure of vascular relaxation within the corpora cavernosa rather than the one feeding penile artery. Stenting or surgical grafting to bypass a blockage would be ideal for a single obstruction site along a penile artery. Because most erectile dysfunction pathology resides within the sponge-like vascular plexus of the penis, the ability of diffusely dilating and expanding the many vascular chambers of the penis is difficult to impossible. As such, unless the situation is that the penile artery was injured during a pelvic trauma, and the potential to bypass another vessel into the single penile artery, the concept of vascular reconstruction or angio-radiology stenting has very low yield.

Hormonal Therapy and ED

Hormonal therapy is not used as a primary therapy for the treatment of ED. Testosterone therapy is used if there is ED and symptoms of low testosterone, as well a low blood level of testosterone.

Testosterone replacement: Men with low sex drive (libido) and ED may be found to have low testosterone levels. Hormone replacement may be of benefit by itself or as a complementary therapy used with other treatments. Libido and an overall sense of well-being are likely to improve when serum testosterone levels are restored. The constitution of symptoms of low libido, fatigue, decreased muscle mass and force, and increased body fat may be related to andropause. As mentioned previously, in the patient workup section, serum total testosterone and bioavailable testosterone blood tests can be performed to evaluate for low serum levels. If determined to be below normal, replacement of testosterone may be suggested as a treatment option. The primary objective of testosterone replacement is to improve libido, energy levels, and symptoms of andropause. Only secondarily would correction of low testosterone levels potentially have impact on erectile function. Some studies suggest that in men with low or low normal testosterone levels and ED who fail PDE5 inhibitors that the use of hormone therapy may improve the success of PDE5 inhibitors.

  • Replacement testosterone is available as oral pills, intramuscular injections, skin patches, and a gel that is rubbed into the skin. Men with low sexual desire and ED may have low testosterone (male hormone) levels. Hormone replacement may occasionally be of some benefit, especially when used in combination with other therapies. Testosterone supplementation alone is not particularly effective in treating erectile dysfunction. Sexual desire and an overall sense of well-being are likely to improve when serum testosterone levels (the levels in the blood) are restored. This can take several months after starting testosterone replacement.
  • The normal range of testosterone levels in healthy adult males is between 280-1,100 nanograms per deciliter (ng/dL). Less is considered low, but this varies depending on the laboratory that does the testing.
  • Oral therapy (pills) is the least effective and the most likely to be associated with liver problems, even though this is a small risk. This is related to the first-pass effect of all medications ingested via the digestive system. Once absorbed from the intesting, all food materials must pass through the hepatic (liver) system and be metabolized. As such, the actual delivery to the systemic blood system is low due to the liver metabolism of the testosterone. For this reason, the oral doses are quite high in order to get serum levels higher.
  • Injections are most likely to restore testosterone levels, but this therapy requires periodic injections, usually every two to four weeks, to sustain an effective level. As such, it is less ideal for patients to depend on frequent medical visits for long-duration therapy. Coupled with injection-related pain, hematoma formation, and inconvenience, the serum blood levels of testosterone are also variable. Injection therapy should not be used in men who wish to father children due to the abnormally high levels of testosterone that occur initially after the injection.
  • More recently developed skin patches and daily applied skin gels deliver a more stable, sustained dose and generally are well accepted by patients. The latter involves AndroGel, Testim, and Axiron.
  • Proper informed consent with your physician should be performed to understand all risks and benefits of hormonal replacement therapy. Follow-up testosterone (hormone) levels and periodic blood counts as testosterone therapy is associated with a risk of an abnormally high red blood cell count, and prostate checks are necessary for all men on long-term testosterone replacement therapy as there are concerns regarding the risk of testosterone therapy in men with an underlying prostate cancer. The use of testosterone therapy does not cause the development of prostate cancer. Testosterone therapy may increase the size of the prostate and cause urinary troubles.
  • Additional lifestyle modifications of cardiovascular conditioning, improved sleep, stress reduction, and increased smooth muscle mass can be beneficial to improving testosterone levels without an exogenous chance.
Review of Surgical Therapies for Erectile Dysfunction
TreatmentAdvantagesDisadvantages
Semi-Rigid or Malleable Rod ImplantsSimple surgery
Relatively few complications
No moving parts
Least expensive implant
70%-80% success rate
Highly effective
Constant erection at all times
May be difficult to conceal
Does not increase width of penis
Risk of infection
Permanently alters or may injure erection bodies
Most likely implant to cause pain or erode through skin
If unsuccessful, interferes with other treatments
Fully Inflatable ImplantsMimics natural process of rigidity-flaccidity
User controls state of erection
Natural appearance
No concealment problems
Increases width of penis when activated
70%-80% success rate
Highly effective
Relatively high rate of mechanical failure
Risk of infection
Most expensive implant
Permanently alters or may injure erection bodies
If unsuccessful, interferes with other treatments
Vascular Reconstructive SurgeryRestores natural erections when successful
Natural appearance
No implant required
If unsuccessful, does not interfere with other treatments
40%-50% overall success rate
Moderately effective
Most technically difficult surgery
Only 50% of men are potential candidates
Extensive testing required
Risk of infection, scar tissue formation with distortion of the penis, and painful erections
May cause shortening or numbness of the penis
Long-term results not available
Relatively high relapse rate
Very expensive
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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