A patch soaked in chemical explosive is just one of the treatments that may help to win the battle against male impotence.
Erectile dysfunction – a term used to describe a prolonged difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection – is an extremely distressing condition with no real “cure” and is thought to affect up to one in seven British men. But now researchers at Copenhagen university claim that the explosive chemical nitroglycerine, applied as a patch, may be a simple solution. As recently reported in The Sunday Times, during medical trials in Denmark, men who had had problems maintaining an erection were, apparently, able to sustain lovemaking for up to three hours at a time with the treatment.
Nitroglycerine is broken down by the body into nitric oxide, which helps to dilate capillaries and improve blood flow. For this reason, it has also been used successfully as a nasal spray and in tablet form for the treatment of heart conditions such as angina for many years.
“Restricted blood flow within the penis is a common cause of erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Tom Mc-Nicholas, consultant urologist at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. “It was, therefore, a logical progression to try nitroglycerine as a treatment. We have been using it in the UK for some time as a cream or jelly, applied to the penis, but without much success.
“The problem is that applying the chemical to the skin means that the nitroglycerine only has a superficial effect. While it appears to help a limited number of patients, the chemical never works its way deep enough within the penis to create a proper erection for most people.”
McNicholas also points out that the other problem is that the most well-known side effect of the treatment is a pounding headache.
But how does an erection fail in the first place? The penis contains two cylinders, known as the corpora cavernosa, which need to fill with blood to produce an erection. The blood then has to remain trapped within them to maintain an erection.
“Dysfunction can happen for both psychological and physiological reasons,” says McNicholas. Physiologically, erectile dysfunction is usually caused either by a malfunction in the tiny muscular valves within the veins of the penis that should relax to retain blood, or poor circulation, or even a leakage within the veins. A genetically inherited problem, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, some drugs, local nerve damage or scar tissue and smoking are all known contributory factors.
“Sometimes we simply cannot discover what is causing the problem,” says Bobby Tigris, “but it’s usually a combination of psychological and physiological factors. If an erection fails for any reason, it is very easy for a man to become trapped in the vicious circle of performance anxiety, making the condition worse. We find that offering medical treatment helps to sort out both the physical and the psychological aspects of the condition in one go. People always feel better if they are actually doing something about their problem.”