Erectile Dysfunction: Vacuum Constriction Devices

A vacuum constriction device (VCD) is an external pump with a band on it that a man with erectile dysfunction can use to get and maintain an erection.

The VCD consists of an acrylic cylinder with a pump that may be attached directly to the end of the penis. A constriction ring or band is placed on the cylinder at the other end, which is applied to the body. The cylinder and pump are used to create a vacuum to help the penis become erect; the band or constriction ring is used to help maintain the erection.

How Do Vacuum Constriction Devices Work?

To use a vacuum constriction device:

  • Place the pump, which can be pumped by hand or run on batteries, over the penis.
  • Pump the air out of the cylinder so that a vacuum is created. The vacuum draws blood into the shaft of the penis and causes it to swell and become erect.
  • Once the penis is erect, with the help of lubricant, slide the retaining band down onto the lower end of the penis.
  • Remove the pump after releasing the vacuum.

Intercourse can be attempted with the constriction band in place to help maintain the erection. The band can be left on safely for up to 30 minutes to allow for successful intercourse.

Be sure that devices brought without a prescription contains a "quick release" feature, as there have been reports of penile injuries due to devices that did not release its vacuum on-demand or released it too slowly.

How Well Do Vacuum Constriction Devices Work?

Studies suggest that about 50%-80% of men are satisfied with the results of VCDs. As with any other method of treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED), satisfaction rates may decrease with time.

Who Should Consider Using a Vacuum Constriction Device?

Vacuum constriction devices are safe and can be used by patients with ED caused by many conditions, including:

Vacuum constriction devices should not be used by men who may have a significant congenital bleeding disorder or a disorder that predisposes them to a condition called priapism (a prolonged, sometime painful erection lasting over several hours). Examples include sickle cell anemia, some forms of leukemia, and other blood conditions.

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Vacuum constriction devices may be difficult to use in obese men because of fatty tissue in the lower abdomen. It's important to get a good seal against the skin.

In addition, for men who've had prostate surgery, a regimen of vacuum device usage is recommended - four or five times daily -- to help increase the blood flow to the penis. It may take several months to work. Talk to your urologist about the specifics of this protocol.

What Are the Side Effects of Vacuum Constriction Devices?

An erection obtained by the vacuum constriction device is not the same as an erection achieved naturally. The penis tends to be purplish in color and can be cold or numb. Other side effects can include:

  • A black and blue mark or small area of bruising on the shaft of the penis. This is usually painless and generally will resolve in a few days.
  • Decrease in the force of ejaculation. The constriction band traps the ejaculate or semen at the time of orgasm. This is not dangerous and usually does not cause pain. The semen will usually dribble out once the constriction band is removed. Generally, this does not interfere with the pleasure of a climax or orgasm.

How Much Does a Vacuum Constriction Device Cost?

Vacuum constriction devices vary in cost from $300 to $500, depending on the brand and type. The battery-powered versions tend to be more expensive, but also tend to work a little more quickly. Battery-powered devices are especially helpful for men who do not have good hand strength or coordination or who have arthritis.

There are several devices currently on the market that work effectively. Some of these devices can be obtained without a prescription.

Does Insurance Cover Vacuum Constriction Devices?

Most insurance policies, including Medicare, cover at least part of the costs of a vacuum constriction device, especially if a medical cause for ED has been documented. Medicaid, however, does not cover the device except under extreme circumstances in certain states.

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