Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a medical problem that prevents you from having or maintaining an erection that is firm enough to have satisfactory sex. ED can be a short-term or long-term problem. You have DE if

  • get an erection sometimes, but not every time you want to have sex
  • achieve an erection that does not last long enough for sexual intercourse to be satisfactory
  • can’t get erections at any time

Health professionals, such as healthcare providers and urologists, can treat ED. Although ED is very common, it is not a normal part of aging. Talk to a healthcare professional if you have any symptoms of ED. ED can be a sign of a more serious medical problem.

It may seem embarrassing and difficult to talk to a healthcare professional about ED. However, remember that a healthy sex life can improve your quality of life and is an important part of your overall well-being. Health professionals, especially urologists, are trained to talk to people about many types of sexual problems.

Are there other names for erectile dysfunction?

ED is often referred to as impotence, but health professionals use this term less frequently as it can be confused with other non-scientific meanings of the word.

Is erectile dysfunction common?

ED is very common. It affects approximately 30 million men in the United States.

Who is most likely to develop erectile dysfunction?

You are more likely to have ED if

  • it is old age
  • have certain diseases or medical conditions
  • take certain medicines
  • have certain psychological or emotional problems
  • have certain health-related factors or behaviors, such as being overweight or using tobacco


What are the complications of erectile dysfunction?

Complications of ED can include

  • an unsatisfying sex life
  • loss of intimacy between you and your partner that can cause tension in the relationship
  • Depression, anxietyand low self – esteem
  • not being able to get your partner pregnant

Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can also contribute to ED, thus creating a cycle of health problems.

What are the symptoms of erectile dysfunction?

Symptoms of ED include

  • being able to get an erection sometimes, but not every time you want to have sex
  • be able to have an erection, but not for the time necessary to be able to have sex
  • not being able to have an erection at any time

ED is often a symptom of another health problem or a health-related factor.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Many factors that affect your vascular system, nervous system, and endocrine system can contribute to or cause ED.

Although you are more likely to have ED as you age, old age does not cause ED. ED can be treated at any age.

Certain medical problems and conditions

The following medical problems and conditions can cause ED

  • type 2 diabetes
  • of heart disease and blood vessels
  • atherosclerosis
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • Peyronie’s disease
  • injury caused by prostate cancer treatments, including radiation therapy and prostate surgery
  • injury to the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder, or pelvis
  • surgery for bladder cancer

Men with diabetes are two to three times more likely to develop ED than those without it. Read more about diabetes and urological and sexual problems.

Taking certain medicines

ED can be a side effect of many common medicines such as

  • blood pressure medicines
  • antiandrogens – medicines used for prostate cancer therapy
  • antidepressants
  • prescribed tranquilizers or sedatives – medicines that make you calm or sleepy
  • appetite suppressants or medicines that reduce hunger
  • medicine for ulcers

Certain psychological or emotional problems

Emotional or psychological factors can make ED worse. You could develop ED if you have one or more of the following

  • fear of sexual failure
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • feelings of guilt related to your sexual performance or certain sexual activities
  • low self-esteem
  • stress on your sexual performance or stress in your life in general

Certain health-related factors and behaviors

The following health-related factors and behaviors can contribute to ED

  • smoke
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • use of illegal drugs
  • overweight
  • lack of physical activity


How can erectile dysfunction be treated?

You can coordinate with a healthcare professional to treat the root cause of your erectile dysfunction. The type of treatment you choose is a personal decision. However, you can also benefit from talking to your partner about the best treatment for you as a couple.

Changes in lifestyle

Your healthcare provider may suggest lifestyle changes to reduce or improve ED. You can

  • give up smoking
  • limit or stop drinking alcohol
  • increasing physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight
  • stop using illegal drugs

If you are having trouble making these kinds of changes on your own, you can seek help from a healthcare professional.

How do doctors treat erectile dysfunction?

Changes in your medicines

If a medicine you need for another medical problem is causing ED, your doctor may suggest a different dose or another medicine. Never stop taking a medicine without first discussing it with your doctor.

Medicines prescribed for oral use

A healthcare professional may prescribe medicine to take by mouth to help achieve and maintain an erection, including

  • sildenafil
  • vardenafil
  • tadalafil
  • avanafil

All of these medicines relax smooth muscles and increase blood flow to the penis during sexual stimulation. You should not take any of these medicines to treat ED if you are taking nitrates to treat a heart condition. Nitrates widen and relax blood vessels. The combination can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, which could cause you to pass out, dizziness, or fall that could cause injury.

Recommended surgery

For most men, surgery should be the last resort. Consult with your doctor to determine if surgery is appropriate for you. A urologist operates in a surgical center or hospital to

  • implant a device to erect the penis
  • rebuild the arteries to increase blood flow to the penis

Implanted devices. Implanted devices, known as prostheses, can help many men with ED to have an erection. Implants are usually placed by a urologist. The two types of implants are

  • inflatable implants, which lengthen and widen the penis through a pump in the scrotum
  • malleable implants, which are rods that allow you to manually adjust the position of the penis

Usually the patient can leave the hospital the day of surgery or the next day. You may use the implant 4 to 6 weeks after surgery.

Once you receive either implant, you will need to use the device to get an erection. Possible problems with implants include rupture and infection.

Reconstruction of the arteries. Surgery to repair the arteries can reverse ED caused by blockages that interrupt blood flow to the penis. Generally, men under the age of 30 are the best candidates for this type of surgery.