An estimated 30 million American men have experienced erectile dysfunction (ED).
Erectile dysfunction is diagnosed in men of all ages, every day, so it’s a condition that’s far from rare. But the high incidence of ED doesn’t necessarily make it easy for men to discuss with their physicians. And when they do discuss ED with their doctors, there’s no guarantee that they will get the treatment they need. A recent study, in fact, found that only a minority of men who are diagnosed with ED actually receive treatment for it.
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Study
Kevin T. McVary, MD, of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine led a team of researchers in analyzing a commercial insurance database to identify over six million men diagnosed with ED in the 12 months ending in June 2011. The research is scheduled to be published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. Researchers determined how many men were treated for ED and how many went untreated.
Men were considered “treated” if they filled a prescription for
- A PDE-5 inhibitor drug like Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra
- An injection for urethral prostaglandins (like Caverject)
- Androgen replacement therapy
Men were considered “untretated” if they were diagnosed with ED but did not fill a prescription afterward. During the study period, only 25.4% of the men diagnosed with ED were treated. Of the men who were treated, three-quarters took PDE-5 inhibitors, and most of the rest took androgen replacement therapy. Men over age 60 were much less likely to be treated than men in their 50s.
What does the study mean? Perhaps it means that men are becoming more willing to talk about ED with their doctors, but actually filling a prescription for ED medication remains an obstacle to treatment. It’s one thing to speak with a doctor behind closed doors, and another to take a prescription to a bustling pharmacy, which can be an anxious experience when purchasing medications for sensitive health issues.
Underreporting of ED in the Overall Male Population
Erectile dysfunction is not only undertreated among those who are diagnosed with it, it is underreported as well. The introduction of Viagra 15 years ago brought the topic of ED to the table and made it much less of a taboo subject. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to talk about. But there are many reasons besides sexual dissatisfaction that make ED an important topic for men to bring up with their physicians. In younger men, ED can serve as an early warning sign for heart disease and diabetes. Early treatment for heart disease and diabetes can often improve erectile function whether or not a man takes medication specifically for ED.
Underreporting of ED by Men in the Military
A recent study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine led by Sherrie L. Wilcox of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work found that men under 40 who are enlisted in the US military are three times as likely to have ED as civilian men in the same age group. Moreover, few military men receive treatment for ED. Three hundred sixty-seven enlisted men were included in the study, which was designed to learn about ED and quality of life as well as possible barriers to seeking treatment. Over 30% of the men in the military, aged 21 to 40, reported having ED – a rate three times higher than in civilian males of the same age group. Yet only 12 of the approximately 110 military men with ED reported receiving treatment for it.
Wilcox says that reasons for not seeking help mostly related to social factors and concern over what other people would think. She postulates that the higher rates of ED in military men could be due to traumatic events experienced during deployment, other health issues, and relationship problems. Said Wilcox, “This study is important in that it raises awareness for this problem and puts it on the radar of professionals who work with military personnel and their families.”
When ED Medications Are Used Incorrectly
In an ideal situation, a man experiencing symptoms of ED would visit his physician, receive a prescription for medication (probably a PDE-5 inhibitor like Viagra), have the prescription filled, and then take the medication correctly. However, once a man has his medication, if he uses it incorrectly, he may not get the best results.
A study conducted in Madrid, Spain that was reported earlier this year found that complaints of unsatisfactory results from ED medications were often related to how men were taking the drugs. Some men expected the medication to work faster than it did, and simply didn’t wait long enough to get good results. Others didn’t realize that the medication alone doesn’t cause an erection, but that sexual stimulation is also necessary. And some men hoped a smaller dose would work, and would cut pills in half hoping to get relief from ED and save money at the same time. Taking PDE-5 inhibitors as directed, and understanding how they work are keys to getting the best results from them.
Awareness of ED has increased greatly since Viagra was introduced to the market in 1998, and Viagra and other drugs have been used successfully by millions of men globally. However, many men are still reluctant to bring up the issue with their doctors, and of those who are diagnosed with ED, many of them ultimately choose not to have their prescriptions filled. Those who do obtain medications need to be certain to take them as directed in order to get the best results.
If you’re reluctant to bring up ED with your physician, keep in mind that doctors successfully treat patients with ED every day, and that medications like Viagra have helped millions of men enjoy sex again with a convenient, as-needed treatment.
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