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Nonsurgical Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction (cont.)

How Do External Vacuum Devices Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

Specially designed vacuum devices to produce erections have been used successfully for many years. Vacuum devices are safe, relatively inexpensive, and reliable. Vacuum devices do not require surgery. Vacuum devices are available over the counter or by prescription. It is important to make sure that the vacuum device have a mechanism to prevent too high of a vacuum (negative pressure).

The typical vacuum device consists of a plastic cylinder that is placed over the penis, tension rings of various sizes, and a small hand or battery operated pump. Air is pumped out of the cylinder, causing a partial vacuum (negative pressure), which increases blood flow into the penis and creates the erection.

Once an erection is obtained, a tension ring that is usually preloaded onto the bottom of the cylinder is placed at the base of the penis. The ring acts like a tourniquet to keep the blood in the penis and to maintain an erection.

Using the correct size of tension ring is critical in obtaining the best possible result from this type of treatment. If the ring is too tight, it can be uncomfortable. If too large a ring is used, the erection may not last. The tension ring should not be left in place longer than 30 minutes. Leaving the ring in place for longer than 30 minutes can cause damage to the penis and further aggravate the cause of the erectile dysfunction.

Although these devices are generally safe, bruising can occur and the erect penis may lack some support. Other possible side effects include the following:

  • Pain
  • Lower penile temperature (coolness to the penis)
  • Numbness
  • No or painful ejaculation when using the device
  • Pulling of scrotal tissue into the cylinder
  • Blood in the urine or ejaculate after use
  • Injury to the penis with extremely high negative pressure

Many of these side effects can be helped by proper selection of the tension rings and cylinder size, use of adequate lubrication, adequate practice with the device, and proper technique.

Vacuum pumps are effective in most men. Successful erections are achieved in up to 90% of men using the vacuum device, however only about 69% men continue to use the device for two years or longer. The most common cause of failure is improper use of or unfamiliarity with the device. Other drawbacks to the use of vacuum devices include the need to assemble the equipment and the difficulty in transporting it. Many men also lose interest in the device because of

  • necessary preparations (may need to interrupt foreplay),
  • inability to hide the tension ring,
  • relative lack of spontaneity, and
  • lack of partner support or concerns by partner about the discoloration and temperature change in the penis.

Men with significant penile curvature (Peyronie's disease) may not be good candidates for using a vacuum device and should consult with their doctor prior to its use. Similarly, men who take blood thinners should also be careful with the use of the vacuum device.

The vacuum device has been used in men after removal of an infected or malfunctioning penile prosthesis to increase blood flow to the penis and decrease the risk of scarring.

An external vacuum device can be used to produce an erection. The typical vacuum device consists of a plastic cylinder, a tension ring, and a small hand pump.
An external vacuum device can be used to produce an erection. The typical vacuum device consists of a plastic cylinder, a tension ring, and a small hand pump.

The external vacuum device is shown placed over the penis. Note that, after an erection is obtained, the tension ring is placed at the base of the penis to help maintain the erection.
The external vacuum device is shown placed over the penis. Note that, after an erection is obtained, the tension ring is placed at the base of the penis to help maintain the erection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/17/2017
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