It sounds painful, but shockwave therapy may be an effective treatment for men who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED), according to a small study showcased here at the European Society for Sexual Medicine.
Focused shockwaves, generated by a special machine, is an established method of breaking up kidney stones. In patients with heart disease, shockwave therapy is being increasingly used to grow blood vessels.
"If the therapy can work in the small vessels of the heart, we felt that it might work in the penis because most patients with erectile dysfunction have vascular (blood vessel) problems," Dr. Yoram Vardi, from Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, told Reuters Health.
Vardi and colleagues tested their low-intensity shockwave protocol in 20 men with mild or moderate ED caused by reduced blood flow in the penis.
All of the men underwent a three-week course of two weekly treatment sessions and a second identical round of shockwave therapy starting three weeks later. During each treatment session, low-energy shockwave therapy was applied to different areas of the penis for a few minutes.
Erectile function, assessed at the time of enrollment and four weeks after the end of treatment, improved significantly in 15 of the men, Vardi and colleagues found.
There were no side effects related to the treatment.
Although not presented at the meeting, six-month follow-up data show that 12 of the 15 patients who significantly improved with treatment said they no longer needed to use Viagra or a similar agent to treat their ED.
While drugs like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are "extremely effective at treating ED, they only provide functional improvement," Vardi noted. Shockwave therapy "could potentially be useful to most ED patients," the researcher said.