But don’t panic. ED can be caused by a number of factors, from depression and medication side effects to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low testosterone levels, Peyronie’s disease, nerve damage, performance anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Even better, many of these ED causes are treatable with medication and simple lifestyle changes. It’s important to know the root cause of your erectile dysfunction in order to treat it in the fastest, most effective way possible. Here are the 5 most common causes of erectile dysfunction.


Association between metabolic syndrome (MetS) at baseline and incidence of major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years. Panel A represents the Kaplan Meier curves for incidence of MACE in a population of 211 men aged 18–52 years having or not MetS at baseline. This group represents the first tertile of age of a sample of patients (n=619) consulting the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for erectile dysfunction and followed-up for a mean of 4.3 years for the occurrence of MACE. Panel B represents the Cox analyses for the age- and smoking habit-adjusted incidence of MACE associated with the number of MetS components at baseline (glycaemia ≥100 mg/dL, triglycerides ≥150 mg/dL, HDL <40 mg/dL; blood pressure ≥135/80 mmHg, waist circumference >102 cm), according to the tertile of age, in the same population, during the same follow-up. The first, second and third tertile include 211, 199 and 209 patients aged 18–52, 53–60 and 61–88 years, respectively.
Some studies have linked bicycling to ED, though more research is needed to confirm the connection. Bicycle seats put pressure on nerves and blood vessels in the pelvic region. If you’re a frequent or long-distance cyclist, consider buying a seat specially designed to reduce pressure on your perineum. Learn more about the effects of cycling on erectile function.
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
ED has been for long time considered a problem mainly related to psychological conditions and distress. Accordingly, until phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i) were introduced, psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioural therapy were the only option for ED. In the last few decades, ED has been recognized as a clinical consequence of several different organic diseases and the importance of vascular health in erectile function has been so emphasized that ED is now considered not only the result of vascular impairment, but also a harbinger of forthcoming cardiovascular (CV) events (17). Despite the increasing attention of research towards organic mechanisms and conditions leading to ED, it is now known that considering this symptom as entirely due to organic disorders, is as imprecise as considering it only secondary to psychological conditions. In fact, this pathogenetic dichotomy is now obsolete (1,18,19), because it is now known that ED is a multidimensional disorder deriving from the interaction of different components related to organic conditions, relational context and psychological status (20,21). Even when only one of these components is involved in the initial development of erectile impairment, eventually the other ones will appear, thus further worsening ED (21-23). The multidimensional nature of ED is still not fully accepted by health care professionals when dealing with young patients. In fact, complaints of ED in young men is often underestimated and attributed to transient and self-limiting psychological conditions, such as performance anxiety. Young patients are often reassured without any further medical investigations, including physical exam. However, organic disorders, as well as relational and psychological or psychiatric conditions, can be meaningful in determining ED in younger men. In a population of subjects seeking medical care at the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for sexual dysfunction, the first tertile of age (n=1,873 subjects) represents younger subjects (18–44 years). Pathogenetic components of ED in our sample are investigated by the Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction (SIEDY), a structured interview including 13 questions, whose answers, organized in a Likert scale, provide three scales, one for the organic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 1); (22)], one for the relational subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 2); (23)] and one for the intrapsychic subdomain [(SIEDY Scale 3); (21)]. According to these scale scores, organic, relational and intrapsychic conditions are all significant risk factors for ED in younger patients of our population (Figure 2).
Pharmacological treatment of T deficiency in the young essentially relies on the site of origin of the dysfunction: the testis (primary hypogonadism) or the hypothalamic-pituitary region (secondary hypogonadism). In the case of primary hypogonadism, the only available treatment is T replacement therapy (TRT). In secondary hypogonadism, patient needs dictate the therapy. If fertility is requested, gonadotropin is the only option, with the caveat of anti-estrogens in selected cases. If fertility is not an issue, TRT is again the primary choice (63).

Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
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.
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.
Patients taking PDE5 inhibitors should avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol, which may cause a sudden decrease in blood pressure when getting up from a standing or reclining position. Although effects can be variable, symptoms may include a fast heart rate, dizziness, headache and fainting. Studies with some PDE5 inhibitors have shown a decrease in blood pressure and symptomatic effects when combined with alcohol.
Sildenafil should be taken 1–2 h before intercourse. It is important to tell patients that the drug’s effectiveness requires sexual stimulation. One patient in our clinic recently complained that he had no effect from taking sildenafil. It was later discovered that he took the pill and then sat on his couch and read a book about how to grow tomatoes!
In many cases, diagnosing erectile dysfunction requires little more than a physical exam and a review of your symptoms. If your doctor suspects that an underlying health problem may be at play, however, he may request additional testing. Once you’ve determined the cause for your ED, you and your doctor can decide on a form of treatment – here are some of the options:

Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
Dr. Anna Murray, of the University of Exeter Medical School, is co-lead author on the study. She said: “Erectile dysfunction affects at least one in five men over 60, yet up until now little has been known about its cause. Our paper echoes recent findings that the cause can be genetic, and it goes further. We found that a genetic predisposition to type 2 diabetes is linked to erectile dysfunction. That may mean that if people can reduce their risk of diabetes through healthier lifestyles, they may also avoid developing erectile dysfunction.”
This is a 17-year-old male with a past medical history of insomnia, anxiety and depression who presents with complaints of gradual onset (2 years ago) of decreased ability to obtain and maintain erections adequate for intercourse. He reports normal nocturnal erections “most days of the week”. He does not masturbate because he feels that masturbation may have desensitized his brain and caused ED; however, he can masturbate and have an erection with normal orgasm/ejaculation. He has had a successful erection and intercourse with a partner, last time 2 weeks ago. He feels that his ED might have been associated with SSRI treatment but noted no improvement after stopping his SSRI. Cialis 5 mg is effective. He reports normal libido “but not where it was”. His testosterone (T) and free T are normal. He is in the care of a sexual therapist and has read extensively on the internet. He takes trazodone nightly for sleep.
What young men should not do is take an ED drug like Viagra without a prescription, or mix them with other drugs. “This is a huge problem and not a safe practice,” says Penny Kaye Jensen, PhD, president of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. “Some young men are mixing ED drugs with mind-altering drugs, such as ecstasy or crystal methamphetamine. This is on the rise and is a potentially deadly combination.”
Cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of erectile dysfunction in men older than 50 years. Cardiovascular causes include those that affect arteries and veins. Damage to arteries that bring blood flow into the penis may occur from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or trauma to the pelvis/perineum (for example, pelvic fracture, long-distance bicycle riding).

While erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, the risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases with age. According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, the prevalence of erectile dysfunction was 52% in men 40-70 years of age. The prevalence of complete erectile dysfunction increases from 5% at 40 years of age to 15% among men 70 years of age and older.


This man’s situational ED, possibly due to performance anxiety or perhaps fear of a repeat injury and pain. Structural, neurogenic, arteriogenic, and venous occlusive erectile dysfunction can be ruled out as he has normal self-stimulated erections. He responds well to low dose oral PDE5 inhibitors. Additional assessment with cold and hot perception testing and biothesiometer were performed due to his complaint of decreased sensation; both test results were normal. He was started on low dose terazosin once daily at bedtime along with Cialis 5 mg as needed. He is responding well to treatment.
Poor sleep patterns can be a contributing factor for erectile dysfunction, Mucher says. One review published in the journal Brain Research emphasized the intricate relationship between the level of sex hormones like testosterone, sexual function, and sleep, noting that testosterone levels increase with improved sleep, and lower levels are associated with sexual dysfunction. Hormone secretion is controlled by the body’s internal clock, and sleep patterns likely help the body determine when to release certain hormones. 

Erectile dysfunction is your body’s “check engine light” because ED can be an early sign of serious health problems like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol or low testosterone. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body. So ED symptoms often occur long before more serious problems like a heart attack or stroke. When an otherwise healthy man in his 20’s experiences ED, it’s cause for concern.
The improvement of both man and woman sexual function in couples whose male partner is treated with PDE5i has been further confirmed by randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing the effectiveness of PDE5i vs. placebo in improving couple sexual function (91-95). In a more recent RCT, the use of vardenafil 10 mg oral dispersible tablets has been compared to the use of the drug itself in association with cognitive behavioral sexual therapy (CBST) for 10 weeks in 30 couples with ED male partners, randomly assigned to one study arm (96). Results from this RCT showed that vardenafil is able to improve male sexual function, but this improvement is maintained only in patients receiving both vardenafil and CBST. Furthermore, female sexual function and satisfaction are enhanced only in the arm with vardenafil and CBST combined therapy, thus suggesting that a therapy healing the couple is more effective and has a longer-lasting efficacy than the use of a medication focusing only on ED.
When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.
Getting (and maintaining) an erection requires a surprising amount of things to go right. You have to get aroused, then pass that signal from your brain, through your nerves and hormones, to your blood vessels and muscles before an erection can even happen. If one thing goes wrong in that complicated exchange between your cardiovascular, and nerve system, and your hormone levels, blood vessels, and even your mood the result is usually erectile dysfunction. In other words, getting an erection is hard.
Sexual dysfunction was rated for the last one year and temporary or situational complaints were ignored. Data regarding the quantity of alcohol usually consumed per day [in standard drinks; where 1 drink = 30 ml. Spirits = 330 ml. Beer = 1/3 sachet of arrack] and duration of dependence, was extracted from the items corresponding to the section on Mental and Behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol [F10.0] in the SCAN and used in the analyses. However, only the presence or absence of tobacco consumption and not a measure of severity was used for analyses. The ratings were sought after two weeks of inpatient stay after the period of detoxification with benzodiazepines.
Alprostadil should not be used in men with urethral stricture (scarring and narrowing of the tube that urine and the ejaculate pass through), balanitis (inflammation/infection of the glans [tip] of the penis, severe hypospadias (a condition where the opening of the urethra is not at the tip of the penis, rather on the underside of the penis), penile curvature (abnormal bend to the penis), and urethritis (inflammation/infection of the urethra).
Wing, R. R., Rosen, R. C., Fava, J. L., Bahnson, J., Brancati, F., Gendrano, I. N. C., … Wadden, T. A. (2010, January). Effects of weight loss intervention on erectile function in older men with type 2 diabetes in the Look AHEAD trial. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(1), 156-165. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4461030/
The time the dose should be taken and how long the effects last depend on the medication used. The most common side effect of these medications is a headache. However, there is a potential for certain dangerous drug interactions. Anyone prescribed this medication must let his doctor know about any medications he's on, and especially if he's taking nitrates (e.g., nitroglycerin spray, nitroglycerin pills, or nitroglycerin patch) for heart problems.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.
Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure. Los of desire or interest in sexual activity can be psychological or due to low testosterone levels.
Cultivating and maintaining a healthy relationship is not easy. It takes time to truly get to know someone and to trust them. If you and your partner are experiencing trouble with your relationship, it could very well bleed over into your sex life. It could also be the case that your erectile dysfunction is creating problems in the relationship – it is another example of the cycle of ED that can affect many different aspects of your life. Communication is the first step in resolving this particular cause for psychological ED but it is also one of the most difficult steps to take.

Booze. Most men have learned: One too many cocktails doesn’t improve performance; instead, it can have the opposite effect. During a recent study of 1,506 Chinese males, the men who drank three or more drinks a week were more likely to have ED or some form of sexual dysfunction. “Men may find that alcohol decreases social inhibition, which makes it easier to approach a woman,” says Montague. “But alcohol is a depressant, and at higher quantities it can reduce both a man’s desire and ability to perform.”
Chlamydia and erectile dysfunction: What's the link? Some people who have chlamydia also experience erectile dysfunction (ED), which involves problems getting or maintaining an erection. Chlamydia can infect the prostate gland, leading to prostatitis, pain, and ED. In this article, learn more about the link between this common infection and ED, and treatments for both. Read now
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