Talking With Your Doctor About Erectile Dysfunction

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Understandably, talking with your doctor about erectile dysfunction, or the inability to achieve and maintain an erection firm enough for sex, can be embarrassing for men. But it doesn’t have to be. ED is a common, treatable medical condition. About one-third of all men will likely experience ED at some level.

ED can sometimes be the first sign of a more serious medical condition. So it is important not to ignore symptoms of ED. Doctors used to think that most cases of ED were due to mental or emotional problems. But doctors now know that most of the time ED has a physical cause. Many conditions are known to cause ED, including diabetes, high blood pressure, certain medicines, and stress. Doctors also know that while ED tends to increase with age, it is not a normal part of aging.

Your doctor can tailor your treatment plan specifically for you. Here are topics to bring up with your doctor that will help inform the best course of treatment.

Describe Your Symptoms

Your conversation will involve talking about your symptoms. Before your appointment, consider keeping a symptom diary. Record when you have problems and what they are. Your doctor will want to know if this is the first time you’ve had sexual problems or if you’ve had them in the past. Your doctor will also want to know when you first noticed changes in your erections.

Being honest and open can help your doctor figure out the cause and the best treatment for you. If you are experiencing other combined symptoms (loss of vision, inability to urinate, or abnormal penile curvature, which often indicates Peyronie’s disease), it’s even more essential that you talk with your doctor.

You might consider bringing your partner with you to your doctor visit. It may help you feel supported, and treating ED is often easier when both partners are involved.

How Your Doctor Will Diagnose Erectile Dysfunction

After you’ve answered some questions and talked about your symptoms, your doctor will perform a physical exam. The exam will focus on your heart and blood vessel health, your nervous system, and your genitals.

Your doctor may also order lab tests of your blood and urine. Your doctor will use the information about your symptoms, your physical exam, and your lab results to determine the most likely cause of ED.

Discuss Medication Use and Lifestyle Habits

Certain medicines can contribute to ED. Tell your doctor about all your medicines, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, supplements, and herbal products. This information will help your doctor find the root cause of your problems.

Your doctor will also talk with you about your lifestyle habits. It’s important to be honest about your habits because they may contribute to ED problems. Your doctor may suggest cutting back on alcohol, increasing your physical activity, losing some weight, or stopping smoking. Tell your doctor if changing any of your lifestyle habits seems overwhelming. Together, you can find ways to reach your goals.

Explore Your Treatment Options

There are effective options for treating ED. But the first step is treating any underlying medical condition. Your doctor will tell you whether your ED is related to another problem, such as high blood pressure. If so, treating the condition may be all you need to resolve your sexual problems. Otherwise, you and your doctor will explore other options including:

  • Oral medicines, including sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardefanil (Levitra)
  • Injectable medicine or suppositories, including alprostadil (Caverject)
  • Vacuum devices that use a pump to create a vacuum around the penis and produce an erection
  • Implants, including bendable and inflatable implants
  • Surgery to repair arteries or veins in the penis that cause problems with erections. 

Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to each of these treatments. Finding the right treatment for you may take time. You might need to try different treatments to see which one best suits you. But don’t try to self-treat ED with supplements and online offers. For your health and safety, stick with the treatments your doctor recommends for you.

Who to See for Erectile Dysfunction

A primary care physician may be the first stop to discuss symptoms of ED. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing ED with your primary care physician, find a urologist, or even urology male health specialists (andrologists) who talk with people about ED every day. Just remember that erectile dysfunction is very common and it can be a significant indicator of your overall health.

Your sex life doesn't have to suffer or end because of ED. There are a number of treatment options, based on your personal situation and personal preference. Ask your doctor why a certain treatment seems right for you. And consider getting a second opinion if you still have doubts. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel confident with your treatment decision.

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  1. Erectile Dysfunction (ED). Urology Care Foundation, American Urological Association. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/e/erectile-dysfunction-(ed) 
  2. Erectile Dysfunction. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/erectile-dysfunction/ 
  3. Erectile Dysfunction. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10035-erectile-dysfunction 
  4. Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction. National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestives and Kidney Disease.  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts 
  5. Gerbild H., et al. (2018). Physical activity to improve erectile function: A systematic review of intervention studies. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29661646/


Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 20
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