5 Fast Facts About Erectile Dysfunction

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  • Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is difficulty getting or keeping an erection. Understandably, having ED can be very disconcerting and upsetting. Many men—and their partners—have misconceptions about ED. It isn’t always an easy topic to discuss. Your doctor is the best resource for understanding whether or not you have ED, its underlying cause, and what to do about it. Start with these five facts about erectile dysfunction.

  • 1
    Erectile dysfunction is a common problem.
    Older man in bed

    If you have ED, you are not alone. Most men have occasional problems with erections. In the United States, as many as 30 million American men have ED and about 50% of men older than 40 experience some level of it. By age 75, it affects nearly 1 out of 2 men. While the incidence of ED tends to increase with age, ED is not an inevitable part of aging. The problem is usually more about health conditions and lifestyle habits.

  • 2
    Most cases of erectile dysfunction are due to a physical cause.
    Man with doctor

    It’s true that psychological and emotional issues can cause problems with sexual function. Stress, anxiety and depression are examples. But most cases of ED have a physical cause—something that affects the blood flow or nerve supply to the penis. Chronic medical conditions are the main culprit in ED, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and hardening of the arteries. This means having ED can be a sign of other underlying problems. Other possible causes include spinal cord injury, prostate or bladder surgery, and certain medications.

  • 3
    Lifestyle habits can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
    Man drinking pint of beer

    It’s important to be honest with your doctor about your lifestyle habits. They may be contributing to ED and your doctor can only help if he or she has all the facts. Your doctor may suggest cutting back on alcohol, increasing your physical activity, losing some weight, or stopping smoking. Some of these changes may seem overwhelming or unachievable, but your doctor can help you find solutions that work for you.

  • 4
    Treatment for erectile dysfunction requires a doctor’s order.
    Little blue pill

    The first step in treating ED is to address any underlying medical condit ions, which may resolve the problem. If you still have trouble sustaining an erection, your doctor may recommend treatment. Depending on the physical cause, this may include:

    • Oral medicines including sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardefanil (Levitra)
    • Injectable medicine or suppositories such as alprostadil (Caverject)
    • Vacuum devices or implants
    • Surgery to repair damaged blood vessels in the penis

    You might need to try different treatments to see which one works best for you.

  • 5
    It can be dangerous to treat erectile dysfunction yourself.
    older male shopping for medication

    Some men want to avoid the doctor and deal with ED themselves. For your health and safety, don’t take anything for ED without checking with your doctor first. An investigation of supplements sold online to treat ED revealed some scary findings, as reported by the Food and Drug Administration. About one-third of ED supplements contained potentially harmful ingredients that the label did not list. Supplements can also cause side effects and drug interactions. If you are interested in a supplement, talk with your doctor first. Then, order it through a local pharmacy.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Erectile Dysfunction. American Urological Association. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/erectile-dysfunction?article=28&display=1
  2. Erectile Dysfunction. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction.html
  3. Erectile Dysfunction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/ED/index.aspx#cause
  4. Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction “Treatments” Sold Online. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm048386.htm