Talking With Your Doctor About Erectile Dysfunction

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Caucasian soldier and doctor talking in office

Having problems getting or keeping an erection—erectile dysfunction (ED)—can be upsetting. And it isn’t always easy to talk with your doctor about issues in the bedroom. But it’s important to discuss it with your doctor—even if you feel embarrassed. ED can sometimes be the first sign of a more serious medical condition. And ED is a common, treatable medical condition. In fact, about one-half of American men older than 40 have experienced some level of it. 

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 it 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 him or her decide the best course of treatment—for you.

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. 

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. 

Talk About Your 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 be contributing to your 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. 

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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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Sep 3
  1. ED: Non-Surgical Management (Erectile Dysfunction). Urology Care Foundation, American Urological Association. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=60.
  2. Erectile Dysfunction. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction.html.
  3. Sexual Health for Men. Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/mens-health/sexual-health-for-men/index.html
  4. Sexual Problems. Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.womenshealth.gov/mens-health/sexual-health-for-men/sexual-problems.html.
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