Erectile dysfunction (ED) is commonly called impotence. It’s a condition in which a man can’t achieve or maintain an erection during sexual performance. Symptoms may also include reduced sexual desire or libido. Your doctor is likely to diagnose you with ED if the condition lasts for more than a few weeks or months. ED affects as many as 30 million men in the United States.

With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18


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Intraurethral alprostadil (Muse) provides a less invasive alternative to intrapenile injection. It is a pellet that is inserted 5–10 min before intercourse, and its effects last for 1 h. The response rate is ∼50–60%. It can be used twice daily but is not recommended for use with pregnant partners. Complications of priapism and penile fibrosis are less common than after alprostadil given by penile injection. The cost is ∼$18–24 per treatment.
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.
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.

A daily glass of wine, beer or single malt over dinner or after work with your buddies will not lead to erectile dysfunction (ED), inability to get or maintain an erection during sex. Overindulging, though, will short-circuit your sex life. Besides waking up with a major hangover, overdoing it will eventually lead to hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular disease, which interferes with blood flow to your  equation is simple: the less blood flow, the soft and skimpier the erection. Unless you can drink in moderation, avoid alcohol if you want to be at your best in bed.
To give you some evidence of the link between anxiety, stress, and ED consider the results of a study published in a 2015 edition of Comprehensive Psychiatry. In a study of case records for 64 men with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, there was a significant link between ED and anxiety disorders or depression. Of the 64 participants, 8 had comorbid depressive disorders and 15 had anxiety disorders. In the majority of patients, these disorders predated the onset of sexual dysfunction which suggests that the disorders may have been a contributing factor.
Erections are neurovascular events, meaning that nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins) are involved in the process of an erection and all must work properly to develop a hard erection that lasts long enough. Erection begins with sexual stimulation. Sexual stimulation can be tactile (for example, by a partner touching the penis or by masturbation) or mental (for example, by having sexual fantasies, viewing porn). Sexual stimulation or sexual arousal causes the nerves going to the penis to release a chemical, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the production of another chemical, cyclic GMP (cGMP), in the muscle of the corpora cavernosa. The cGMP causes the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, and this allows more blood to flow into the penis. The incoming blood fills the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand.

Diabetes leads to vascular complications throughout the body and the penis is no exception. A large survey reported that the majority of men with diabetes and ED had never even been asked about their sexual function. That means they never received treatment for ED. If you think you might have diabetes or even prediabetes, talk to your doctor about ED.
If you have symptoms of ED, it’s important to check with your doctor before trying any treatments on your own. This is because ED can be a sign of other health problems. For instance, heart disease or high cholesterol could cause ED symptoms. With a diagnosis, your doctor could recommend a number of steps that would likely improve both your heart health and your ED. These steps include lowering your cholesterol, reducing your weight, or taking medications to unclog your blood vessels.
Erectile dysfunction is a common occurrence in men with diabetes. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, from 5% in men age 20 to 75% in men over age 65. The cause of erectile dysfunction in men with diabetes is usually related to a decrease in the blood supply to the penis as well as to injury to the nerves that are responsible for the erection mechanism. A decrease in testosterone production has also been identified as the cause in some men with diabetes.

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Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. However, placement of a prosthesis causes scarring of the tissue within the corpora cavernosa, and if the prosthesis requires removal, other forms of therapy, except for the vacuum device, are often not effective. Thus, most physicians reserve placement of a prosthesis for men who have tried and failed or have contraindications to other therapies.
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that erectile dysfunction strikes as many as 30 million men in the United States. Its prevalence does increase with age — 4 percent of men in their 50s are affected by ED, 17 percent in their 60s, and 47 percent of those over 75. But research has also found that 5 percent of those affected were between 20 and 39.
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).
Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to ED. In a small study, 31 men newly diagnosed with ED either took tadalafil (Cialis) only, or took tadalafil while also following an eight-week stress management program. At the end of the study, the group who participated in the stress management program saw more improvement in erectile function than the group who took only tadalafil.
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).
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.
To give you some evidence of the link between anxiety, stress, and ED consider the results of a study published in a 2015 edition of Comprehensive Psychiatry. In a study of case records for 64 men with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, there was a significant link between ED and anxiety disorders or depression. Of the 64 participants, 8 had comorbid depressive disorders and 15 had anxiety disorders. In the majority of patients, these disorders predated the onset of sexual dysfunction which suggests that the disorders may have been a contributing factor.
Illegal drugs don’t just affect and suppress the central nervous system. They cause serious damage to blood vessels. And any damage to blood vessels or normal blood flow will eventually cause erectile dysfunction. Some experts even argue that a single use of any of these chemicals can lead to subsequent ED. Chronic use raises the risk even more. If you have a substance addiction speak to your physician. There’s always help available.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Khoo, J., Piantadosi, C., Duncan, R., Worthley, S. G., Jenkins, A., Noakes, M., … Wittert, G. A. (2011, October). Comparing effects of a low-energy diet and a high-protein low-fat diet on sexual and endothelial function, urinary tract symptoms, and inflammation in obese diabetic men [Abstract]. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(10), 2868-75. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21819545
The reasons young men develop erectile dysfunction differ from those of their older peers. The typical aging male with erectile dysfunction develops the condition because some underlying disease (such as heart disease or diabetes) is preventing blood from flowing into his penis. For a younger man, the problem is more likely to be some form of trauma, such as an accident that damaged nerves needed to produce an erection. Regardless of the cause, a young man with erectile dysfunction should talk about the problem with a physician.
The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of paired cylinders, which doctors surgically insert inside the penis. Patients can expand the cylinders using pressurized fluid (see figure 3). Tubes connect the cylinders to a fluid reservoir and pump, which doctors also surgically implant. The reservoir is usually in the pelvis. A doctor places the pump in the scrotum. By pressing on the pump, sterile fluid transfers from the reservoir into the cylinders in the penis. An erection is produced primarily by expansion of the width of the penis, however, one model can increase in length a small amount also. Lock-out valves in the tubing prevent the fluid from leaving the cylinder until a release valve is pressed. By pressing the relief valve and gently squeezing the penis, the fluid within the cylinders transfers back into the reservoir.
A physical exam checks your total health. Examination focusing on your genitals (penis and testicles) is often done to check for ED. Based on your age and risk factors, the exam may also focus on your heart and blood system: heart, peripheral pulses and blood pressure. Based on your age and family history your doctor may do a rectal exam to check the prostate. These tests are not painful. Most patients do not need a lot of testing before starting treatment.
For patients who have ED related to hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle and excessive sympathetic discharge, we recommend a trial of a low-dose alpha adrenergic blocker, such as terazosin 1 mg PO at bedtime nightly. We typically increase the dosage as needed every 2–3 weeks for 3–5 months until the patient experiences improvement of the erection or we determine that treatment is ineffective. We explain the potential side effects of orthostasis, dizziness, and retrograde ejaculation in detail. We also take great care and time in explaining to the patient, and his family/partner if present, the pathophysiologic mechanism of their erectile dysfunction and the biological basis of the treatment plan. This detailed discussion helps to engage the patient in the treatment plan and provides encouragement regarding the potential for response to treatment and recovery. During these encounters, we utilize teaching tools, such as diagrams, drawings, printed handouts, and other visual aids to ensure that the discussion is patient-focused and patient-friendly. Patient education is critical to exploring treatment options and developing confidence in our ability to treat the ED, and their own ability to overcome and eventually resolve the problem of ED.
If this treatment approach fails, it is useful, however frustrating, to start again from the beginning. Reassess the history to ensure that nothing was missed originally. Obtain labs and perform a PCDU. This will give the objective information that you might need in order to make a diagnosis of a known etiology for ED and to provide the patient reassurance that your evaluation has been thorough.
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.”
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Total testosterone levels: Health care professionals should obtain a patient's blood samples for total testosterone levels in the early morning (before 8 a.m.) because the testosterone levels go up and down throughout the day. If you have a low testosterone level, a health care professional should check it again to confirm that it is truly low. In some men, a specialized test measuring the active form of testosterone (free or bioavailable testosterone) may be recommended.


Anxiety is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction in young men. This can include nervousness about getting your partner pregnant, losing your erection while putting a condom on, or your sexual performance. This often creates a negative spiral, because failure to achieve an erection causes yet more anxiety and stress. Depression, anxiety and stress can also cause ED by reducing libido.
Many common medications for treating hypertension, depression, and high blood lipids (high cholesterol) can contribute to erectile dysfunction (see above). Treatment of hypertension is an example. There are many different types (classes) of medications for high blood pressure; these include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, diuretics (medications that increase urine volume), angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors), and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). Patients may use these medications alone or in combination to control blood pressure. Some of these medications can cause troubles with erections. For example, Inderal (a beta-blocker) and hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic) cause erectile dysfunction, while calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors do not seem to affect erectile function. On the other hand, other medications (such as angiotensin receptor blockers [ARB] including losartan [Cozaar] and valsartan [Diovan]) may actually help with erections. Therefore, if possible, you may benefit from changing your medications, but this requires approval by your prescribing health care provider.
These are among the most challenging patients seen in urology practice today: a young, healthy man with neither systemic disease nor a history of trauma, who has complaints of ED (Table 2). These men often have co-morbid diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, which make the issue of ED more complex for both the patient and the urologist (12). The psychological burden of ED in these young men is more pronounced than it might be in older men as this is the phase of life during which many men expect to be highly sexually active (4). These young men are usually technologically savvy and may have scrutinized much of the readily available information on the internet regarding ED. Often they arrive to clinic armed with an understanding of the diagnostic evaluation that may be offered to further investigate the etiology of their concerns. This makes the evaluation and treatment of these men more challenging since additional diagnostic testing is often not indicated after a thorough history and physical examination. In many cases, they may have self-diagnosed and self-treated based on the information that they obtained prior to seeing a physician. Many of these men will see multiple urologists on their quest to find a pathophysiology that they can accept, and many have unrealistic expectations of a rapid cure or a surgical cure.
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.
The condition is often an early warning sign of heart disease and other circulatory problems. To achieve and maintain an erection, extra blood must be able to flow unimpeded. Anything that interferes with healthy flow – for example atherosclerosis, the artery-clogging process at the root of most heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular conditions – has the potential to cause erectile dysfunction, too.
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
The obvious risks are the same that accompany any surgery: infection, pain, bleeding, and scarring. If for some reason the prosthesis or parts become damaged or dislocated, surgical removal may be necessary. With a general success rate of about 90 percent, any of the devices will restore erections, but they will not affect sexual desire, ejaculation, or orgasm.
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