Zapping the penis with sound waves could tackle erectile dysfunction, a study suggests.
Scientists tested the relatively new treatment alongside a standard pill on a group of men struggling with impotence.
They found six sessions of up to 2,400 pulses of acoustic energy to the penis gave significantly better results than the pill alone.
It is believed to work by stimulating the growth of new nerve fibres and blood vessels, restoring penis function.
The intense vibrations to the shaft during the 20-minute sessions are not painful, according to the researchers.
Paolo Verze, of University of Naples Federico II, Italy, said low-intensity extracorporeal shockwave therapy (LiESWT) is a ‘promising’ therapy for erectile dysfunction (ED).
The 156 study participants all had type 2 diabetes, as ED is a common problem often with more severity among those with diabetes.
It can stem from damage to nerves and blood vessels caused by poor long-term blood sugar control.
In the study, patients took a daily pill of tadalafil, branded Cialis, a standard treatment for ED, for 12 weeks.
However, half of them also had LiESWT twice a week for three weeks at the beginning of the study.
The severity of participants’ erectile dysfunction was measured using the 5-Item International Index of Erectile Function test.
Scores of 25–22 indicate no erectile dysfunction while five to seven indicate severe erectile dysfunction.
At the beginning, the men aged 57 on average, had an erectile dysfunction score of 15.5. Their score was measured four weeks, 12 weeks and 24 weeks after the study.
The scores improved significantly in both groups at four weeks, by 2.9 in the tadalafil only group, and 3.9 in the LiESWT group.
At 12 weeks, scores had improved by 3.3 in the tadalafil only group, and 4.3 in the LiESWT group.
By 24 weeks, the differences were more evident. Those who had the LiESWT had seen their erectile dysfunction improved by 3.8 compared to the 1.8 who did not have it.
A second study investigated what number of shockwaves were most effective – 1,500, 1,800 or 2,400 pulses per session.
Those who had the most intense shockwave therapy of 2,400 saw their erectile dysfunction improve the most, by 4.7 points.
Overall, the combined approach of tadalafil and LiESWT at 2,400 pulses gave ‘significant advantage’ compared to those who only had tadalafil, the researchers said.
Writing in the Asian Journal of Andrology, the authors shockwave therapy is believed to stimulate pathways that encourage growth factors.
A growth factor is a natural substance in the body which helps with healing and cell growth.
This, Dr Verze and colleagues said, may regenerate nerve fibres and blood vessels in the penis, improving blood flow.
‘Consequently, LiESWT has the potential to restore natural erections and cure the disease,’ they claim.
The study was welcomed by sexual health expert Dr Diana Gall, from online service Doctor 4 U.
She told The Sun: ‘Drugs such as tadalafil have long been used to treat erectile problems.
‘But shockwave therapy is an emerging weapon in the sexual health armoury and this new study offers some encouraging results.
‘When combined with erection medication, it could now offer real hope for those who suffer erectile dysfunction, particularly among the one in ten men over 40 in the UK who also have diabetes.’
Erectile dysfunction affects half of men aged between 40 and 70 years old, according to the British Association of Urological Surgeons.
Of the 90 per cent of men who have an underlying physical cause, rather than a mental struggle, a third have diabetes.