Other Nonsurgical Treatments for Impotence

Self-Injection

Self-injection involves using a short needle to inject medication through the side of the penis directly into the corpus cavernosum, which produces an erection that lasts from 30 minutes to several hours. Prostaglandin (alprostadil, Caverject, Edex), and phentolamine (Regitine) produce results similar to Viagra but are localized in the penis after injection. They cause vascular dilation and a relaxation of smooth muscle. Prostaglandin is the only substance currently approved for erectile dysfunction treatment. Phentolamine is a heart medication with similar effects used by some physicians to treat impotence.

These drugs have been shown to produce erections in 80 percent of men who inject them. Some men claim that they produce erections that feel natural and improve sex. The injections are relatively painless and create an erection that begins about 5 to 15 minutes after the injection. It is recommended that self-injection be performed no more than once every 4 to 7 days. Side effects include infection, bleeding, and bruising at the injection site, dizziness, heart palpitations, and flushing. There is a small risk for priapism (an erection that lasts for more than 6 hours and requires medical relief). Repeated injection may cause scarring of erectile tissue, which can further impair erection.

Urethral suppositories containing prostaglandin (aprostadil), like Muse (Medicated Urethral System for Erections), may be an alternative to injection. Using a hand-held delivery device, a man inserts a prostaglandin pellet through the meatus (penis opening) into the urethra. Prostaglandin is absorbed through the urethral mucosa and into the surrounding erectile tissue. It is available with a prescription, is well tolerated, and may improve erections in 60% of men who use it.

In addition to the side effects associated with injecting aprostadil, pain in the penis and perineum (area between scrotum and rectum) may occur with suppository use.

Vacuum Devices

Vacuum devices work by manually creating an erection. The penis is inserted into a plastic tube, which is pressed against the body to form a seal. A hand pump attached to the tube is used to create a vacuum that draws blood into the penis, causing the penis to become engorged. After 1 to 3 minutes in the vacuum, an adequate erection is created. The penis is removed from the tube and a soft rubber O-ring is placed around the base of the penis to trap blood and maintain the erection until removed. The ring can be left in place for 25 to 30 minutes.

Vacuum devices work best in men who are able to achieve partial erections on their own. They are easy to use at home, require no other procedure, and typically improve erections regardless of the cause of impotence. Some men experience a numbing feeling after placing the O-ring. Since the penis is flaccid between the ring and the body, the erection may be somewhat floppy.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 14 Sep 2015