Prof, support group address impotence

Lynne Kozarek

Many people still consider frank discussion about sex a taboo. But for men suffering from impotence, a new University support group dispels some myths surrounding the disorder.
“Impotence is the most underestimated of public health problems. It has a profound effect on the quality of life of those who suffer from it,” said Dr. Kevin Billups, a University assistant professor of urology and director of erectile dysfunction.
Billups is working with the Impotence Institute of America to form the first impotence support group in Minnesota. The institute has many similar programs currently operating across the United States.
An estimated 20 to 30 million men in the United States are affected by impotence, Billups said. He said 80 to 85 percent of the cases are a result of a physical condition.
Billups said he had worked with a man who found that he was impotent after having prostate cancer surgery. The doctors never told him the disorder could develop, Billups said. Consequently, the man and his wife did not realize what had occurred and why.
A variety of causes can lead to impotence, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.
“Anything that impacts blood flow,” Billups said, “the arteries have to be working well and the blood vessels have to be open.”
One commonly held misconception about impotence is that it is a purely psychological condition.
“Unfortunately, a lot of physicians believe that, too,” Billups said. “Men who are told that they’re under a lot of stress and to get more sleep tend to shy away from the medical treatment they need.”
Recently, the American Urological Association released guidelines for impotence treatment.
One method involves using a needle to inject the impotence treatment drug Alprostadil into the penis. The drug expands the arteries and relaxes penile tissues, increasing blood flow. The increased flow causes an erection five to 15 minutes after injection.
Billups said impotence treatment is often not covered under his patients’ health insurance plans.
“Heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are commonly covered,” he said, “but they cause impotence, and impotence isn’t often covered.”
But Greg Burrey, a representative for Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance, said impotence is typically covered in health insurance plans.
“If it is a mental problem, it is covered under mental health,” he said, “if it is a physical problem, it is covered under a normal plan.”
Burrey said the medical community has proven that impotence is a legitimate, serious health problem.
Both Billups and the institute agree that it is important for a man and his sex partner to attend the support meetings. He said impotence doesn’t just affect the man, and that the couple needs to understand how it affects them psychologically.
The University support group, which will begin sometime in January, will discuss how impotence affects marital relations, family relationships and job performance.