Sexual Health Q&A

What recent research has been conducted on shockwave therapy for treatment of erectile dysfunction?

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) has a variety of uses in medicine. Depending on the intensity, ESWT can be used to shatter kidney stones, treat tendonitis, and help patients with bursitis.

ESWT for erectile dysfunction (ED) is fairly new. Studies have found it helpful for men who have ED caused by blood flow problems.

When a man is sexually stimulated, the arteries in his penis widen and allow blood to flow in. This blood makes the erection firm enough for sex. Once there is enough blood in the penis, veins constrict to keep the blood in until the man ejaculates. Then, the blood flows back into his body.

ESWT works by delivering low-intensity shock waves that trigger “microtrauma” in the penis. In turn, this helps new blood vessels grow from older blood vessels in a process called angiogenesis. The new blood vessels allow enough blood in to form an erection.

In 2013, Israeli scientists published encouraging research in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Urology. In their series of studies, they found that ESWT improved erectile function for most of their study subjects. The treatment did not cause significant pain and there were no adverse reactions.

The researchers also found that the effects of ESWT could last for two years, making it an attractive option compared to “on demand” ED treatments, such as oral medications, injections, and vacuum erection devices.

In 2014, the Scandinavian Journal of Urology published a study from Danish and British researchers that involved 112 men with ED. The men were divided into two groups. One group received low-intensity ESWT and the other received a placebo treatment.

The researchers found that low-intensity ESWT helped 57% of the men in the treatment group achieve erections suitable for intercourse. But the treatment’s effectiveness appeared to diminish over time. It’s possible that the men may have needed more frequent treatments or higher doses to sustain the good results.

Before ESWT can become a standard treatment, more research is needed. There are still some questions to answer: What protocols should doctors use? How many treatments will patients need? Where, exactly, should the shock waves be aimed for best results? How long can men expect the results to last? Are there any long-term consequences to this treatment?

However, there are still a number of ED treatments available. Men who are concerned about erections are advised to talk to a urologist.

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