Surgical Treatments for Impotence

Penile Implants

Penile implants involve surgical insertion of malleable or inflatable rods or tubes into the penis. A semi-rigid prosthesis is a silicon-covered flexible metal rod. Once inserted, it provides the rigidity necessary for intercourse and can be curved slightly for concealment. It requires the simplest surgical procedure of all the prostheses. Its main disadvantage is that concealment can be difficult with certain types of clothing.

An inflatable penile prosthesis consists of two soft silicone or bioflex (plastic) tubes inserted in the penis, a small reservoir implanted in the abdomen, and a small pump implanted in the scrotum. To produce an erection, a man pumps sterile liquid from the reservoir into the tubes by squeezing the pump in the scrotum.

The tubes act as erectile tissue and expand to form an erection. When the erection is no longer desired, a valve allows the fluid to return to the reservoir. Inflatable prostheses are the most natural feeling of the penile implants and they allow for control of rigidity and size.

The surgical procedure to implant the inflatable prosthesis is slightly more complicated than for a semi-rigid implant. Also, because there are more mechanical parts, there is a higher risk for mechanical failure requiring repair or adjustment.

A self-contained inflatable prosthesis is similar but has fewer parts. It consists of a pair of inflatable tubes in the penis with a pump attached directly to the end of the implant. The reservoir is also located in the shaft of the penis. Its compact design allows for simpler implantation, but because it takes up more space in the penis, there is less room for expansion.

Vascular Reconstructive Surgery

A small percentage of men undergo vascular reconstructive surgery to improve blood flow to the penis. Revascularization involves bypassing blocked veins or arteries by transferring a vein from the leg and attaching it so that it creates a path to the penis that bypasses the area of blockage. Young men with only local arterial blockage are the best candidates for this procedure. It may restore function in 50% to 75% of men.

Venous ligation is performed to prevent venous leak. Problematic veins are bound (ligated) or removed, which allows an adequate amount of blood to remain in the penis. It may improve function in 40% to 50% of men, but some men may experience problems over the long term.

Vascular surgery for erectile dysfunction is rarely performed and is generally considered experimental. Risks include nerve damage and the creation of scar tissue, both of which are causes of impotence. Surgeons experienced with these procedures may be difficult to find.

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

Published: 10 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 01 Dec 2011