Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

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Many men have problems getting or keeping an erection. In fact, up to 30 million men in the United States have erectile dysfunction (ED). The good news is that there are many safe and effective ways to treat it. Learn about treatment options for this common condition.

Finding a Cause

Your doctor may first try to determine whether any medical problems are causing ED. For example, if it is caused by a condition like high blood pressure, treating the underlying health problem could improve both your overall and sexual health. 

Your doctor may also review the medicines you take in case one might be causing the problem. For some people, cutting back or switching medicines can help you regain sexual function.

Assess Your Lifestyle

Your doctor may suggest healthy lifestyle changes to improve your erections including:

  • Drinking less alcohol

  • Getting more physical activity

  • Losing extra weight

  • Stopping smoking

Finding the Right Treatment

If difficulties with erections persist, there are many treatment options available. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of each, including potential side effects. You might need to try 2 or 3 treatment options before you find one that works for you, so don’t give up. But avoid going online for so-called dietary supplements for ED—many have been found to contain potentially harmful and undeclared ingredients.

Oral Medicines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three pills to treat ED. They are sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardefanil (Levitra). These drugs are phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5). They work by improving the response to sexual stimulation, so you still need physical and mental stimulation to have an erection. 

Although popular, these drugs are not for everyone. People who take heart medicines called nitrates should not use them. When combined, nitrates and PDE-5 drugs can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. A sudden drop in blood pressure can also occur if you take PDE-5 drugs and alpha blockers too soon together. Alpha blockers treat enlarged prostate and high blood pressure. Tell your doctor if you take nitrates or alpha blockers. 

Injectable Medicine

If oral medicine isn’t an option for you, your doctor may talk with you about injections or suppositories of a medicine called alprostadil (Caverject). The injections go into the penis. Men place the suppositories about an inch into the urethra with a prefilled applicator. Both cause automatic erections. 

Vacuum Devices

These plastic devices cause erections by creating a partial vacuum around the penis, which pulls blood into it. The device has three parts—a cylinder where the penis goes, a pump to create the vacuum, and an elastic ring that goes around the base of the penis to keep the blood in place during sexual activity.

Implants

Malleable or inflatable implants are other treatment options. These implants are placed in the penis during surgery. With malleable—or bendable—implants, the man adjusts his penis and the implanted rods to create an erection. The implants do not affect the length or width of the penis. 

Inflatable implants create an erection when the man inflates the implanted rods by pressing on a small pump under the skin in the scrotum. This moves fluid from a reservoir in the lower pelvis into the rods. Inflatable implants can cause a slight increase in the length and width of the penis. 

Surgery

In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are procedures that can repair arteries that block the flow of blood to the penis or bind leaky veins that cause the penis to lose its rigidity. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4
  1. ED: Non-Surgical Management (Erectile Dysfunction). 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. Erectile Dysfunction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/ED/index.aspx.
  4. Erectile Dysfunction (ED): Surgical Management. American Urological Association. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=28&display=1.
  5. Hidden Risks of Erectile Dysfunction “Treatments” Sold Online. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm048386.htm.
  6. 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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