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Erectile dysfunction affects many men and becomes more common with age. It is so common that up to 1 in 3 men aged between 60 and 70 experience it. Due to its high prevalence, the illness has been studied many times, with the objective of finding the most suitable treatment.
Orally administered drugs such as sildenafil (Viagra) are the most commonly prescribed treatment, although there are also others. Some studies have suggested shock wave therapy as an alternative to these drugs, specifically low-intensity electro-acoustic waves, propelled by compressed air. This therapy was not devised for erectile dysfunction, but it was adapted after having offered benefits in other areas, such as cardiology and traumatology.
Shock waves are administered at the doctor’s office, and don’t require any prior preparation. It’s a 20-minute session, in which neither admission nor anaesthesia are necessary. The beneficial effects on erectile dysfunction are based on angiogenic capacity, which means that the treatment promotes the formation of vessels. Furthermore, it also improves the quality of the internal lining of these vessels, the endothelium. The therapy consists of applying shock waves to the body of the penis over various sessions, in order to try and improve vascular quality. In this way, it acts on the main cause of erectile dysfunction: vascular problems. On the other hand, erectile dysfunction caused by nervous system or hormone disorders cannot be improved with this therapy.
There is a disparity between medical guides and societies about the usefulness of shock waves for erectile problems. While European clinical guides recommend their use, guides from the European Society of Sexual Medicine continue to consider them as experimental.
Even so, the results of this therapy indicate that they improve erections in 2 of every 3 men. The benefits are maintained in 50% of men for more than a year, allowing them to stop using medication. Therefore, they are only 20% less effective than drugs, which tend to work in 70% of cases.
A recent study compares and compiles data from various publications on the matter, bringing together around 600 patients. This meta-analysis reveals that surveys on erectile dysfunction amongst patients treated with shock waves presented better scores than those who did not receive them.
Shock waves are attracting a lot of attention and they have become the treatment of choice for mild erectile dysfunction at many health centres, especially in cases of a vascular nature. This means that they constitute one of the few alternatives for curative treatment for erectile problems. In any case, before choosing shock waves, it is important to consult a urology professional to assess whether this treatment may really be useful in each case.
Author: Eduard García-Cruz, urologist Hospital Clínic