What is erectile dysfunction?
Formerly known as impotence, erectile dysfunction (ED) is the ongoing inability to have an erection that is hard enough for penetration. Another symptom is an erection that does not last long enough for the completion of sexual activity. ED can have a significant impact on the sex life of a man and his partner.
Many men experience erectile dysfunction intermittently, especially during times of stress. If it is a recurring event, however, it can signal an underlying medical or emotional issue. This should be addressed by a healthcare professional.
An erection occurs because of increased blood flow to your penis. ED can occur as a problem in any stage of the erection process. It may be related to problems with blood flow to your penis, nerve damage, or stressors and emotions.
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction
Causes of erectile dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is more common in older men but can happen at any age. Causes of ED include:
- High blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Stress, anxiety, or depression
- Alcohol or tobacco use
- Some prescription medicines
- Brain or spinal cord damage
- Low testosterone
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Radiation therapy to the testicles
- Some types of prostate or bladder surgery
Erectile dysfunction can be an indicator of a larger problem. It may be uncomfortable, but it is important to discuss it with your doctor. With your doctor’s assistance, you can get to the cause of the problem by pursuing treatment for your ED.
Some causes of erectile dysfunction can also be psychological:
- Feeling nervous about sex due to a bad experience or anxiety around your erectile dysfunction
- Feeling stressed by other factors, like work or family issues
- Feeling depressed or overwhelmed
- Feeling self-conscious about your body or performance
- Thinking your partner is reacting negatively toward you
Diagnosis for erectile dysfunction
Your doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of your erectile dysfunction and decide on what the best treatment is.
Expect your doctor to ask questions about your overall health, check your heart and blood pressure, and gather information about your erectile dysfunction. They may also draw blood for lab tests or refer you to an urologist.
Other tests that your doctor may use to assess your erectile dysfunction are:
- An ultrasound to examine the blood vessels in the penis and blood flow
- Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test to evaluate the quality of your nocturnal erections
- An injection test during which medication is injected into your penis to stimulate an erection so that your doctor can see how long it lasts
- Urine tests to check for diabetes or other underlying health conditions
Treatments for erectile dysfunction
The treatment for your erectile dysfunction will depend on the cause.
Heart and vascular health
Your doctor may make suggestions to improve your overall health, including the health of your heart and circulatory system. Increasing your amount of exercise, eating well, and ensuring that you get sufficient vitamins and minerals can help with this overall wellbeing. Another recommendation may be reducing or eliminating your use of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol. Your doctor may also recommend losing weight.
Your doctor may recommend pursuing some mental health support to alleviate the impact of stress, depression, or anxiety on your ED. Seeking help from a mental health professional can help treat erectile dysfunction.
Other treatments for erectile dysfunction
There are a variety of other options to treat erectile dysfunction including medication, surgical options, injections, or vacuum devices:
- Oral drugs or pills are often prescribed for ED (Viagra, Cialis, Levitra, Stendra)
- Testosterone Therapy (if blood tests indicate low testosterone)
- Penile Injections (ICI, intracavernosal Alprostadil)
- Intraurethral medication (IU, Alprostadil)
- Vacuum Erection Devices
- Penile Implants
- Surgery to bypass penile artery damage for some younger men with a history of severe pelvic trauma (this procedure is not recommended for older men with hardened arteries)
Many men find relief through a combination of these treatments. Your doctor will help you decide the fastest and best method for curing your erectile dysfunction.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Family Doctor: "Erectile Dysfunction (ED)."
Harvard Health Publishing: "All-natural tips to improve your sex life."
Mayo Clinic: "Erectile dysfunction."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center: "Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction."
Urology Care Foundation: "What is erectile dysfunction?"
Yale Medicine: "Why Men Should Not Ignore Erectile Dysfunction."