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The role of hypoxia in erectile dysfunction mechanisms


Chronic hypoxia is related to many pathological conditions: aging, heart and respiratory failure, sleep apneas, smoke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension and arteriosclerosis, all characterized by reductions of sleep-related erections (SREs) and by erectile dysfunction (ED). Sleep-related erections occur naturally during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in sexually potent men. Hypoxia is also a physiological condition at altitude. The level of inspired oxygen decreases progressively with the increase of altitude; for this reason, this study was performed to evaluate the relationship of SREs with hypoxic environment. SREs have been recorded by an erectometer (RigiScan) on three mountain climbers (mean age: 32.5) during a 26-day stay at an altitude ranging from 2000 to 5600 m above sea level. Twenty-four records have been made at progressively increasing altitudes. A data analysis was carried out on a statistical mean of the three values of each variable and an analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Newman–Keuls test were carried out for multiple comparison among groups. At altitudes over 4450 m, we found lack of rigidity at 80–100% and 60–79%. Mean % of rigidity and rigidity time of 80–100% (tip and base) decreased progressively with altitude. No significant reductions were shown in rigidity time at 0–19% and at 20–39% (tip and base), of total number, of total and mean duration of SREs. Pathological rigidometric records at high altitude in sexually potent men at sea level clarify the primary role of hypoxia in physiopathological ED pathway.

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This work was partially supported by Professor R Tenaglia and C Di Giulio.

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Correspondence to V Verratti.

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Verratti, V., Di Giulio, C., Berardinelli, F. et al. The role of hypoxia in erectile dysfunction mechanisms. Int J Impot Res 19, 496–500 (2007).

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  • erectile dysfunction
  • hypoxia
  • sleep-related erections
  • altitude

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