Lower urinary tract symptoms and sexual dysfunction: epidemiology and pathophysiology


Prof Kevin McVary, Northwestern University School of Medicine, Chicago, USA. e-mail: k-mcvary@northwestern.edu


There is ample evidence from many epidemiological studies that lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) and sexual dysfunction are strongly linked, independently of age and comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidaemia and coronary heart disease. However, a causal link between both conditions is not yet established. Four pathophysiological mechanisms currently support the relationship between LUTS and erectile dysfunction (ED): (i) The nitric oxide synthase (NOS)/NO theory; there is a reduction in NOS-containing nerves in the prostate and bladder/urethra in patients with bladder outlet obstruction (BOO), and that lack of NO or loss of protein kinase G causes ED; (ii) The autonomic hyperactivity and metabolic syndrome hypothesis: benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) may be part of the metabolic syndrome, which includes cardiovascular diseases (e.g. hypertension, ischaemic heart disease) and diabetes mellitus, known risk factors for ED. Hypertension, obesity, and hyperinsulinaemia have all been claimed to be associated with an increased sympathetic activity. Increased sympathetic activity is involved in LUTS/BPH and may have a role in ED/sexual dysfunction, with noradrenaline and α1-adrenoceptors representing a common link; (iii) the Rho-kinase activation/endothelin pathway; there can be increased Rho-kinase activity, and consequently calcium sensitivity of the contractile machinery, in prostate smooth muscle in BPH, the detrusor in BOO, corpora cavernosa in ED, and in the resistance vessels in hypertension. The actions of several factors beside noradrenaline (e.g. endothelin-1, angiotensin II), possibly involved in the increased smooth muscle activity found in both LUTS/BPH and sexual dysfunction, are dependent on Rho-kinase activity. Thus increased Rho-kinase activity might represent a common link between LUTS and sexual dysfunction; (iv) Pelvic atherosclerosis; animal models mimicking pelvic ischaemia and hypercholesterolaemia show similar smooth muscle alterations of the detrusor and corpora. Pelvic ischaemia may induce the biological modifications described above and may thus represent as well a common link between LUTS and sexual dysfunction. Studies treating one condition (e.g. ED) and measuring the impact on the other (e.g. LUTS) should further contribute to support this common link.