Dr. Niket Sonpal is the Associate Program Director of the Internal Medicine Residency at Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn and an Associate Professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. He's a practicing Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist with a focus on Men's and Women's Health, and a regular contributor to Women's health, Shape and Prevention Magazine.
ED is common and has a significant impact on men and their partners. The first step is acknowledging that ED is affecting you and that it bothers you. If so, then it is time to get help. Often your primary care health provider can start the evaluation of your ED to determine if there are any potential reversible causes. It is important to be evaluated if you have ED as ED is often caused by medical conditions, which if not recognized and treated, could cause you harm. Did you know that the ED is a strong predictor of underlying cardiovascular disease? If you have underlying cardiovascular disease, your primary health care provider or a specialist (if needed) needs to make sure it is safe for you to participate in sexual activity.

An erection involves the brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and circulatory system. These systems work together to fill the erectile tissue in the penis with blood. A man with erectile dysfunction (ED) has trouble getting or maintaining an erection for sexual intercourse. Some men with ED are completely unable to get an erection. Others have trouble maintaining an erection for more than a short time.
Erectile dysfunction in older men. Because erections primarily involve the blood vessels, it is not surprising that the most common causes in older men are conditions that block blood flow to the penis, such as atherosclerosis or diabetes. Another vascular cause may be a faulty vein, which lets blood drain too quickly from the penis. Other physical disorders, as well as hormonal imbalances and certain operations, may also result in erectile dysfunction.
Talk with your doctor about going to a counselor if psychological or emotional issues are affecting your ED. A counselor can teach you how to lower your anxiety or stress related to sex. Your counselor may suggest that you bring your partner to counseling sessions to learn how to support you. As you work on relieving your anxiety or stress, a doctor can focus on treating the physical causes of ED.
If you’re experiencing psychological ED, you may benefit from talk therapy. Therapy can help you manage your mental health. You’ll likely work with your therapist over several sessions, and your therapist will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.

Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.
Erectile dysfunction: Dehydration causes decreased blood volume and increased angiotensin, a hormone associated with erectile dysfunction. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause damage to the nervous system, which is responsible for triggering the signals that cause an erection. Studies have also shown that prolonged abuse can cause irreversible damage to the nerves in the penis. Additional studies have shown erectile dysfunction is present in alcohol abusers even when they are sober.

Erectile dysfunction: Dehydration causes decreased blood volume and increased angiotensin, a hormone associated with erectile dysfunction. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause damage to the nervous system, which is responsible for triggering the signals that cause an erection. Studies have also shown that prolonged abuse can cause irreversible damage to the nerves in the penis. Additional studies have shown erectile dysfunction is present in alcohol abusers even when they are sober.


For many young men, performance anxiety plays a large role in erectile dysfunction. Other factors include money and work problems, as well as relationship issues and even issues about sexual orientation. Undiagnosed depression and post-traumatic stress disorder can cause erectile dysfunction--especially if the PTSD is related to a past sexual experience.

In addition to these laboratory tests, your doctor may also ask you to complete a self-report to gauge your level of sexual function. You’ll be asked questions about your sexual desire (libido), your ability to achieve and maintain an erection, your ability to reach orgasm, your satisfaction level with intercourse, as well as your overall sexual satisfaction. Depending on your answers, and the results of your laboratory tests, your doctor may recommend a psychological evaluation to further explore the potential cause for your ED.


Ageing is one of the most important unmodifiable risk factors for the development of metabolic disorders and CV diseases. Accordingly, the common algorithms for the estimation of risk of forthcoming diabetes or CV events include age as a factor of the equations (24-29). The weight attributed to age for estimating the risk in these equations is often so significant that younger men are automatically considered at low risk, irrespective of the other possible risk factors. However, even in younger subjects, overlooking the contribution of cardio-metabolic factors to pathogenesis of ED is a mistake that can lead to the loss of the opportunity of early recognition of patients who deserve a change in life-style or a pharmacological correction of risk factors. ED, besides being considered one of the clinical manifestations of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases (CVD), is regarded as an early marker of CV events (17). In fact, according to Montorsi’s hypothesis (30), impairment of penile artery blood flow occurs before that of coronary or carotid arteries, whose diameter is greater and needs longer time to acquire a clinically relevant damage. The clinical consequence of this pathological event is that ED often manifests earlier than myocardial infarction or stroke. In particular, it has been demonstrated that ED occurs on average three years before the first major adverse CV event (MACE) (31). Quite surprisingly, although CV risk increases with ageing, the role of ED as a harbinger of forthcoming MACE becomes progressively less evident. Data derived from almost 2,500 community-dwelling men aged 40–79 years, involved in the Olmsted County study show that ED is associated with an almost 50-fold higher risk of incident heart diseases in men aged 40–49 years, whereas the difference in risk between ED and non-ED men progressively declines in older men (32). The different CV risk associated with ED in different age bands has been confirmed by the meta-analysis of the available longitudinal studies (33). These observations suggest that, in younger men, the role of ED as a marker of CV risk is even more dramatic than in older ones and as a consequence, investigating the presence of metabolic or CV conditions in younger ED patients is pivotal for identifying men in whom an early life-style modification may avoid serious CV consequences. Even more than erection during sexual intercourse, erection during masturbation is considered a physiologic function that mirrors metabolic and CV health. In fact, erections during masturbation are far less affected by relational and psychological components than sex-related ones (34). In a population of subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for sexual dysfunction, more than 2,500 men reported autoeroticism in the previous 3 months. Among these men, the impairment of erection during masturbation was associated with family and personal history of CVD (35), as well as with impaired response to the test with the intracavernous injection (ICI) of prostaglandin E1, which suggests an arteriogenic damage of penile arteries and predicts forthcoming MACE (36). For a subset of these men (n=862), information on the occurrence of MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available and those who reported impaired erections during masturbation had a significantly higher incidence of MACE (35). However, when considering separately younger and older men, this association was confirmed only in younger ones, and it was still significant after excluding men reporting severe ED during masturbation (35). This suggests that the impairment of erection during masturbation is a symptom not completely overlapping with sex-related ED and that it can provide different and supplementary information, in particular when assessed in younger and apparently healthy men. Similarly to what is observed for erection during masturbation, acceleration of blood in penile arteries, as measured by the colour Doppler ultrasound in flaccid conditions, is associated with an adverse CV profile in men consulting for ED. A reduction in flaccid acceleration, which can be used by clinicians to objectively verify the arteriogenic origin of ED and to characterize the extent of a self-reported symptom, has been also associated with a future risk of CV events, with the association being significant in younger but not in older men (37).
These findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing a possible organic component of ED even in younger men. In fact, in younger, more than in older men, who are by definition at high CV risk, searching for signs of metabolic or CV disorders can help identify those men who apparently healthy, have subtle and subclinical conditions that can be treated before the damage becomes clinically overt.
Multiple authors have demonstrated that anxiety, depression, and stress clearly produce major neurochemical and neuroendocrine changes in the brain (10,11). Changes in neurobiology would be expected to contribute to impaired erectile function. Stress and anxiety lead to increased epinephrine production, and heightened sympathetic tone leads to exaggerated cavernosal smooth muscle contraction, inability of smooth muscle to relax, and subsequent erectile dysfunction (6,7). Failure to achieve a fully rigid erection may aggravate performance anxiety leading to a vicious cycle.

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Care for these patients, who in many cases are emotional, demanding, and time consuming, may evoke feelings of frustration and anticipatory anxiety in the time-strapped urologist. Early in the encounter, the urologist must understand the patient’s psychosocial environment and establish a rapport and meaningful alliance with the patient and his family, if present (13). It is important to ensure that the doctor-patient interaction is informative and task oriented for greater patient buy-in and compliance with treatment (13,14). Affirm to the patient that regardless of the short time allotted for the visit that the doctor-patient relationship will endure even after the visit. This may be accomplished through a scheduled follow-up telephone call, electronic message, follow-up clinic visit, or a written letter. It may also be beneficial to refer the patient to a sex therapist or counselor though many young men will reject the idea that there is a psychosocial element to their ED and may refuse to consider therapy.
Relationship problems often complicate erectile dysfunction. Improving your relationship may be part of the solution. It may be a good idea to get counseling together from a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or a medical specialist. "I almost always see couples together to discuss erectile dysfunction. It often turns out that both partners have issues regarding the sexual relationship and once they are out in the open, couples can work together on a more satisfying sexual experience," says Feloney.
It's tempting to think of erectile dysfunction (ED) as a condition that only affects aging men. But a small number of younger men will develop erectile dysfunction too. One survey found that about 2 percent of men in their 20s are unable to have erections. Overall, 6.5 percent of these younger males said they had at least occasional difficulty getting or sustaining an erection.
The relaxing effect of alcohol and the feeling of well-being that comes with a drink or two have made alcohol humans’ favorite beverage for about 10,000 years. Though some studies confirm that alcohol (in moderation!) is good for your heart and circulation (which can work against erectile dysfunction), it’s important to remember that sex and alcohol are a delicate balancing act.
Although ED and diabetes are two separate conditions, they tend to go hand in hand. Half of men with diabetes will experience ED within 10 years of their diagnosis.8 For some men, ED may be the first symptom of diabetes even if they have not yet been diagnosed, particularly in men younger than 45.6 Left untreated, ED can damage self-confidence and relationships.
Patients who use this therapy should be trained under the guidance of a urologist, and sterile technique must be used. The drugs must be injected into the shaft of the penis and into one of the penile erectile bodies (corpus cavernosum) 10–15 min before intercourse. Most patients do not complain of pain upon injection. Sexual stimulation is not required, and resulting erections may last for hours. Side effects include penile pain and priapism. The cost is about $12–20 per injection.
It's not easy to get in the mood when you're overwhelmed by responsibilities at work and home. Stress can take its toll on many different parts of your body, including your penis. Deal with stress by making lifestyle changes that promote well-being and relaxation, such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and seeking professional help when appropriate.

Mechanical therapy is also effective and is especially well-accepted in men with stable partners. Vacuum-assisted erection devices are effective in creating erections in as much as 67% of cases. Vacuum pressure encourages increased arterial inflow, and occlusive tension rings discourage venous outflow from the penile corpus cavernosae. The penis placed inside the cylinder, a pump is used to produce a vacuum that pulls the blood into the penis. After the tension ring is slipped onto the base of the penis, the cylinder is removed. Erection lasts until the rings are removed. The one-time expense of this therapy is $120–300.
The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
Though it's most common among older men, it's possible for young men to get erectile dysfunction. When young men develop ED, it's usually a result of psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, depression or relationship problems. However, physical problems such as diabetes, nerve problems, injury or other medical conditions may also lead to erectile dysfunction in younger men. If you're having frequent or ongoing trouble getting or keeping an erection long enough to have sex, talk to your doctor.

Experts often treat psychologically based impotence using techniques that decrease anxiety associated with intercourse. The patient's partner can help apply the techniques, which include gradual development of intimacy and stimulation. Such techniques also can help relieve anxiety during treatment of physical impotence. If these simple behavioral methods at home are ineffective, a doctor may refer an individual to a sex counselor.
Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.

A 25-year-old male presents with a past medical history of mild traumatic brain injury, remote bilateral orchitis, depression, anxiety, and PTSD from childhood bullying. He presents with his mother. His chief complaint is ED that began at 19 years old. He reports that it is "hard to obtain an erection, takes a lot of work to get almost nothing out of it" and “extreme loss of sensation in specific areas” on his penis. He feels that this might be related to “over masturbation without lubricant” 1–3 times per day and reports that he is “addicted to masturbation”, using it as a coping mechanism to manage his PTSD. He reports strong, sustainable erections with tadalafil 5 mg and recovery of sensation when he uses marijuana. He has read extensively on the internet and self-treats with topical vitamin creams, self-administered laser treatment to the penis, pulsed electromagnetic therapy, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment for ED for the past 6 months. He reports no change with any of these treatments. He reports reduced libido and has recently started treatment with HCG and testosterone gel for testosterone of 198 without any change in his symptoms with T of 450. His free T is normal. He lives at home, is unemployed, and is sedentary. He takes Wellbutrin. His physical examination is normal. His CBC, CMP, pituitary, and thyroid functions are normal. Prior to the visit, his mother called the clinic to inform personnel that her son was very sensitive, potentially suicidal, and emotionally disturbed by this problem. He has seen two other urologists already for his erectile dysfunction and been displeased with the outcome of his visits.
While self-esteem can be affected by the perceptions of others, it is largely how you feel about yourself. If you have a negative view of yourself and your abilities, it is going to color your experience and actions on a daily basis. Many people with low self-esteem get so caught up in their own perception of themselves, that they begin to project it onto others. For example, a man with low self-esteem might believe that he is not capable of satisfying a woman and, as a result, he becomes unable to perform in the bedroom. Low self-esteem can also be a sign of other psychological issues such as depression.  
The most common diagnostic test for erectile dysfunction is called penile ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to look for abnormal penile blood supply. Another test that may be done is nocturnal penile tumescence testing, in which a type of computer is attached to the penis to see if nighttime erections are occurring. If a young man is having nighttime erections but can’t get an erection during sex, a psychological cause becomes more likely.

Erectile dysfunction isn’t just about not being able to achieve an erection. Often times men can get an erection and still suffer from some of the early symptoms of erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection that’s strong enough to have “satisfactory” sex. Satisfaction is the key word in that definition. And it encompasses a lot.
There are, as you listen to all of the advertisements, if your erection lasts for more than four hours, there are very, very unusual cases where that can happen. There are very rare cases of visual problems. There are even rarer cases of hearing problems. But with every medication, there always a potential downside. But the absolute contraindication is an unstable medical condition, an unstable cardiovascular condition, being on nitrates.
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
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