Circulatory problems: An erection occurs when the penis fills with blood and a valve at the base of the penis traps it. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, clots, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can all interfere with this process. Such circulatory problems are the number one cause of erectile dysfunction. Frequently, erectile dysfunction is the first noticeable symptom of cardiovascular disease.
If the patient reports a history of trauma to the genitals that preceded his erectile dysfunction, further evaluation with pharmacologic injection and penile color duplex ultrasound (PCDU) would be indicated to assess for arterial insufficiency or venous occlusive dysfunction (19). Prior to PCDU, however, you might give him a trial of oral PDE5 inhibitors. If those medications are effective, you have effectively ruled out significant arterial insufficiency or venous leakage disease as an etiology. Regardless of outcome of PCDU, no surgical intervention would likely be offered to this man who responds well to oral agents.
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. 

Intermountain Healthcare is a Utah-based, not-for-profit system of 23 hospitals, a Medical Group with more than 1,600 physicians and advanced practice clinicians at about 180 clinics, a health plans division called SelectHealth, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is widely recognized as a leader in clinical quality improvement and in efficient healthcare delivery.


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.

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.
The relationship between ED and couple relation impairment is well documented. In our population of subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, subjects reporting conflicts within the couple were characterized by a broad spectrum of sexual symptoms, including a severe extent of ED, and they had a higher SIEDY Scale 2 score, indicating a strong relational component in the pathogenesis of ED (88). If on one hand, it is easy to understand that problems in couple relationship can cause ED, the other way around is also feasible. In the Female Experience of Men’s Attitudes to Life Events and Sexuality (FEMALES) study, 292 female partners of men aged more than 20 years complaining for ED were involved in a survey assessing the quality of their sexual experience (89). In this study, women reported a significant deterioration of satisfaction for sexual intercourse after the onset of ED in their partners. The satisfaction, sexual desire, arousal and orgasm were then improved in women whose partner used PDE5i (89). The role of ED as a risk factor for female dysfunction, including impairment in arousal, orgasm, sexual satisfaction and sexual pain, has been also confirmed in a study involving 632 sexually active couples, whose male partner age ranged 18–80 years (90).
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.
Tadalafil (Cialis) is the third oral medicine approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Like sildenafil (Viagra) and vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil inhibits PDE5 (as described earlier). Unlike the other PDE 5 inhibitors, patients should take tadalafil once daily and is approved for the treatment of BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
A 19-year-old male presents with a history of anxiety, depression, and asthma and chief complaint of ED that began 1-year ago after a “nerve twinge with subtle pain” during masturbation. He also reports decreased penile sensation since the event. He can obtain and maintain an erection with masturbation. He reports inability to obtain or maintain an erection with a partner unless he takes tadalafil 5 mg. He reports straight phallus, normal libido, orgasm, and ejaculation. The remainder of his history is negative. His physical examination is normal. His previous laboratory assessment, including CBC, CMP, TSH, T4, T and Free T, was normal.
People sometimes refer to ED as "impotence," although the two aren't really the same condition. ED is the physical inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough for sex. Impotence is a broader term. While one cause of it is ED, impotence may also involve a lack of sexual desire, an inability to ejaculate, or problems with orgasm.
We can partially speak to this issue by looking at data from the first wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative US sex survey conducted in 2009 with thousands of Americans aged 14-94 [3]. As part of this study, male participants were asked whether they’d experienced any erectile difficulties the last time they had sex via a single item with five response options, ranging from “not difficult” to “very difficult.” Obviously, this is a quite different question compared to the other studies because it only focused on a single event (the most recent one in memory) and it was more complex than a simple yes/no answer. The researchers also divided men into slightly different age groups.
While these are the two most comparable datasets on this subject, there’s a problem with both of these studies, which is that they don’t tell us anything about the severity of the difficulties experienced. Having erectile “difficulty” doesn’t necessarily mean that these guys can’t get an erection at all or that they have problems every time and with every partner. Also, we don’t know whether guys who had very mild problems answered these questions consistently (e.g., if it only happened once or you didn’t think it was a big deal, would you still report it as a problem?).
Erectile dysfunction started to become a household term after scientists discovered a drug to treat it. Nowadays, as anyone who watches TV can attest, there are several different medications for ED. Fifty to 70 percent of men with type 1 or type 2 diabetes respond to a class of drugs—including sildenafil (Viagra), var­denafil hydrochloride (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis)—called phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors.
Can red ginseng help treat erectile dysfunction? Red ginseng is a Korean herb that has been touted as a possible remedy for erectile dysfunction. But how effective is it? In this MNT Knowledge Center article, learn about red ginseng, what it is, what research there is on it treating erectile dysfunction, and other health benefits of this herb. Read now
Diabetes is an example of an endocrine disease that can cause a person to experience impotence. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to utilize the hormone insulin. One of the side effects associated with chronic diabetes is nerve damage. This affects penis sensations. Other complications associated with diabetes are impaired blood flow and hormone levels. Both of these factors can contribute to impotence.
Surgery for erectile dysfunction is usually considered only after all other options have failed. The two surgical options include the insertion of a semi-rigid rod or the implantation of a three-piece inflatable prosthesis. Penile prosthesis implantation has low infection, complication, and malfunction rates. However, since placement of an implant requires permanent injury to the erectile tissue of the penis, implant treatment is considered irreversible.
Erectile Dysfunction is not the same condition as premature ejaculation.  Men with premature ejaculation are able to achieve an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, but due to over stimulation of the penis, ejaculate within one to two minutes of beginning intercourse with their partner.  Men with erectile dysfunction, on the other hand,  are unable to achieve hard erections capable of vaginal penetration or are not able to achieve an erection at all.
Failure to achieve an erection is not uncommon for most men and may be considered normal even if it happens as often as 20 percent of the time. There is a wide range of normal when it comes to sexual functioning and sexual relationships. "Generally if a couple feels comfortable with their sex life and they enjoy intimacy together, erectile dysfunction may not be much of an issue. But if erectile dysfunction is causing stress in a relationship, then help is available," says Feloney.

The penis is composed of three cylinders: two on the top, the corpora cavernosa and one on the bottom, the corpus spongiosum. All of these are involved in the process of an erection. The corpora cavernosa are composed of potential spaces that can distend with blood, causing rigidity of the penile shaft. The corpus spongiosum is important for rigidity of the glans of the penis. When aroused, stimulated chemicals are released from the nervous system (nitric oxide is one) that stimulate the arteries to the penis to relax and increase blood flow into the penis. These potential spaces, like a sponge, can expand when more blood flow comes in the penis. Each corpora cavernosa is surrounded by an outer coating the tunica albuginea. When the penis fills with blood, these potential spaces, the sinusoids, compress the veins in the corpora against the side of the tunica albuginea, thus preventing blood from leaving the penis. It is this compression of the veins that allows for the erection to become fully rigid.


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.

ED can also occur among younger men. A 2013 study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for ED were under the age of 40. The researchers found a stronger correlation between smoking and illicit drug use and ED in men under 40 than among older men. That suggests that lifestyle choices may be a main contributing factor for ED in younger men.


We can partially speak to this issue by looking at data from the first wave of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative US sex survey conducted in 2009 with thousands of Americans aged 14-94 [3]. As part of this study, male participants were asked whether they’d experienced any erectile difficulties the last time they had sex via a single item with five response options, ranging from “not difficult” to “very difficult.” Obviously, this is a quite different question compared to the other studies because it only focused on a single event (the most recent one in memory) and it was more complex than a simple yes/no answer. The researchers also divided men into slightly different age groups.
While there are many ways to treat ED today, men with diabetes may require maximum doses of medications such as Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™, yet still find drugs ineffective.7 In a study of nearly 20,000 men with ED, men with diabetes were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to move on to other treatments, such as pumps and penile implants than men without diabetes.9
ED may occur with or without other sexual dysfunction, including decreased libido (decreased interest in sexual activity), orgasmic dysfunction (troubles achieving an orgasm/climax), and ejaculatory dysfunction (problems with the fluid released during sex, including lack of ejaculation [anejaculation], small volume ejaculate, ejaculation that occurs too quickly [premature ejaculation], ejaculate that goes backward into the bladder [retrograde ejaculation] and pain with ejaculation).
Sexuality and erection are controlled by multiple areas of the human brain including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and the cerebral cortex. Stimulatory or inhibitory messages are relayed to the spinal erection centers to facilitate or inhibit erection (5). Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain the inhibition of erection in psychogenic dysfunction: direct inhibition of the spinal erection center by the brain as an exaggeration of the normal suprasacral inhibition and excessive sympathetic outflow or elevated peripheral catecholamine levels, which may increase penile smooth muscle tone and prevent the relaxation necessary for erection (8). Animal studies demonstrate that the stimulation of sympathetic nerves or systemic infusion of epinephrine causes detumescence of the erect penis (6,7). Clinically, higher levels of serum norepinephrine have been reported in patients with psychogenic ED than in normal controls or patients with vasculogenic ED (9).
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.
Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.
Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
If the patient reports that PDE 5 inhibitors work poorly or inconsistently, we offer CIS to objectively assess erectile function and to provide diagnostic information. For the CIS, inject bimix (such as papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/mL—0.2–0.3 cc) and have the patient compress the injection site for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, instruct the patient to self-stimulate, then assess his response to injection. One could also combine penile color duplex ultrasound (PCDU) with the CIS. However, PCDU is expensive, may not be covered by the patient’s insurance, and may require increased dosages of pharmacologic agents, such as trimix (papaverine 30 mg/phentolamine 0.5 mg/alprostadil 10 mg–0.5 cc) to obtain complete smooth muscle relaxation. This often requires reversal of erection using phenylephrine after the study. In rare patients who failed to achieve and maintain erection with 0.5 mL of trimix, we may proceed with pharmacologic cavernosography or pharmacologic arteriography depending on the results of PCDU.

In the evaluation of physical causes of ED, the health care provider is assessing for conditions that may affect the nerves, arteries, veins, and functional anatomy of the penis (for example, the tunica albuginea, the tissue surround the corpora). In determining a physical (or organic) cause, your health care provider will first rule out certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and vascular disease, low male hormone level, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which are associated with erectile dysfunction. Medical/surgical treatment of these conditions may also cause ED. In addition to these health conditions, certain systemic digestive (gastrointestinal) and respiratory diseases are known to result in erectile dysfunction:
In the evaluation of physical causes of ED, the health care provider is assessing for conditions that may affect the nerves, arteries, veins, and functional anatomy of the penis (for example, the tunica albuginea, the tissue surround the corpora). In determining a physical (or organic) cause, your health care provider will first rule out certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and vascular disease, low male hormone level, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which are associated with erectile dysfunction. Medical/surgical treatment of these conditions may also cause ED. In addition to these health conditions, certain systemic digestive (gastrointestinal) and respiratory diseases are known to result in erectile dysfunction:
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

A full battery of labs was ordered and returned normal. A PCDU was ordered which revealed normal arterial inflow with velocities greater than >40 cm/sec with increased end diastolic velocities suggestive of venous leak. After pharmacologic erection, he developed a partial erection that resolved within 1 minute. This was consistent with a diagnosis of venous leak impotence. Pharmacologic cavernosography was performed and revealed bilateral crural leakage. He underwent infrapubic bilateral crural ligation of the penis, which cured his ED. The patient returned to clinic 6 months later with recurrent impotence. A pharmacologic cavernosography revealed recurrent venous leak. Additional crural ligation via a perineal approach was performed. Two months later he reported normal penile erections, and the result has lasted for more than 5 years. He continues to follow up annually in clinic.


The natural history of ED in people with diabetes is normally gradual and does not occur overnight. Both vascular and neurological mechanisms are most commonly involved in people with diabetes. Atherosclerosis in the penile and pudendal arteries limits the blood flow into the corpus cavernosum. Because of the loss of compliance in the cavernous trabeculae, the venous flow is also lost. This loss of flow results in the inability of the corpora cavernosae to expand and compress the outflow vessels.
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