Accurate statistics are lacking on how many men are affected by the condition because it is often underreported, but it is estimated that about half of men over 40 in Canada have frequent problems achieving or maintaining an erection. The number of men suffering from erectile dysfunction increases with age, but it is not considered a normal part of aging. The majority of cases can be successfully treated.

Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of more serious problems like hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and cholesterol. That’s why we call ED your body’s “check engine light”. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than the rest of the body, especially the blood vessels that lead to the heart and brain. So ED is usually the first sign of high cholesterol or high blood pressure before a blockage causes more serious problems, like a heart attack or stroke.


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.

Although few studies specifically evaluated the clinical characteristics of ED in younger men, this problem is increasingly frequent. Healthcare professionals both inside and outside of Sexual Medicine are likely to deal with young men complaining for ED and it is important that basic knowledge on this topic is available. In fact, young men reporting ED risk being dismissed without any specific medical assessment, including medical history or physical exam, owing to the assumption that ED in younger is a self-limiting condition, without any clinical consequence. However, evidence shows that, similar to middle-aged or older men, ED can be the consequence of the combination of organic, psychological and relational factors and all these components must be assessed for a correct clinical management. In particular, ED in younger, even more than in older men, can be considered a harbinger of CVD and it offers the unique opportunity to unearth the presence of CV risk factors, thus allowing effective and high quality preventive interventions.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).
For best results, men with ED take these pills about an hour or two before having sex. The drugs require normal nerve function to the penis. PDE5 inhibitors improve on normal erectile responses helping blood flow into the penis. Use these drugs as directed. About 7 out of 10 men do well and have better erections. Response rates are lower for Diabetics and cancer patients.
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.
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Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
Poor cardiovascular health reduces your body’s ability to deliver blood needed to produce erections. In a study published in 2004, researchers followed male participants for 25 years. The researchers found that heart disease risk factors predicted which men were most at risk of future ED. Numerous studies have strongly tied four major cardiovascular risk factors to ED:
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).
Patient can inject medications directly into the corpora cavernosa to help attain and maintain erections. Medications such as papaverine hydrochloride, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1 (alprostadil) can be used alone or in combinations to attain erections. All of these medications are vasodilators and work by increasing blood flow into the penis. Prostaglandin E1 (Caverject, Edex) is easier to obtain; however, it is associated with penile pain in some individuals. The use of combinations of two or three of these medications can decrease the risk of having penile pain.
In the popular media, it’s easy to find claims of a rising “epidemic” of erectile dysfunction in young men. For example, this article argues that the rate of ED in young men has increased 1000% in the last decade alone—though, problematically, no research is cited to back it up, which makes this a very questionable claim. So what does the science say on this subject? Are erectile difficulties really rising at a dramatic rate in young guys? Let’s take a look.
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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:
The physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.
The pills currently available by prescription all work the same way—by boosting the effects of NO in the penis. They typically have mild side effects. Some work faster but others last longer. There is no “best” drug, as some will work better for some men than others, but they all are about equally effective at increasing the hardness of an erection. Pills don’t work for everyone. The main risk is using them with nitroglycerine which can be fatal and must absolutely be avoided.
Alcohol is a nervous system depressant and can actually block nerve impulses and messages between the brain and body. This is why drunk people often experience slurred speech, emotional outbursts and difficulty walking. But even small amounts of alcohol will affect the nervous system, causing slower reflexes and fuzzy thinking. Moderate drinking—one to two drinks a day, for men—of any type of alcohol, may actually improve cardiovascular health, according to the Mayo Clinic. Excessive alcohol use and alcohol abuse, can cause scarring of the liver, high blood pressure and an increased risk of some cancers.
It's also important to remember that your mental health plays as much a part of your sexual ability as your physical health. Stress and other mental health concerns can cause or make erectile dysfunction worse. Minor health problems may slow your sexual response, but the accompanying anxiety that comes with the slow sexual response can shut things down entirely.
Patients should continue testosterone therapy only if there is improvement in the symptoms of hypogonadism and should be monitored regularly. You will need periodic blood tests for testosterone levels and blood tests to monitor your blood count and PSA. Testosterone therapy has health risks, and thus doctors should closely monitor its use. Testosterone therapy can worsen sleep apnea and congestive heart failure.

In some cases, men who experience abuse or sexual trauma in childhood may develop erectile issues later in life. If you have had this kind of experience, the chances are good that erectile dysfunction is not your only struggle and you should seriously consider seeking professional help. Though childhood trauma is a completely valid reason for developing ED, we’re going to focus on the psychological issues that develop later in life.
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.
There is no evidence that mild or even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for erectile function, says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urology professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. But chronic heavy drinking can cause liver damage, nerve damage, and other conditions -- such as interfering with the normal balance of male sex hormone levels -- that can lead to ED.

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.
There is no evidence that mild or even moderate alcohol consumption is bad for erectile function, says Ira Sharlip, MD, a urology professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. But chronic heavy drinking can cause liver damage, nerve damage, and other conditions -- such as interfering with the normal balance of male sex hormone levels -- that can lead to ED.
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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.
Supplements are popular and often cheaper than prescription drugs for ED. However, supplements have not been tested to see how well they work or if they are a safe treatment for ED. Patients should know that many over-the-counter drugs have been found on drug testing to have ‘bootlegged' PDE 5 Inhibitors as their main ingredient. The amounts of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra or Stendra that may be in these supplements is not under quality control and may differ from pill to pill. The FDA has issued consumer warnings and alerts.
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.
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.
Erectile function can be impaired in several endocrine disorders and treating these conditions can improve ED (43). This is the case of adrenal insufficiency, whose treatment with glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement is able to improve erectile function (44). Similarly, an adequate control of thyroid function in hyper- and hypothyroid patients is associated with an improvement in ED (45,46). However, although ED is a common complaint in subjects with Addison’s disease, hypo- and even more hyperthyroidism (45-48), the prevalence of these disorders is subjects with ED is not so high for recommending the routine screening of adrenal and thyroid hormone in these men (49). In contrast with the low prevalence of adrenal or thyroid disturbances in ED subjects, testosterone (T) deficiency is frequently found in subjects with ED (49,50) and, in turn, low T is frequently associated with the occurrence of sexual dysfunctions, including ED, even in general population (51). Accordingly, the Fourth ICSM recommends the routine assessment of T levels in patients with ED (43). The assessment of prolactin (PRL) in ED patients is controversial because an actual pathological increase in PRL levels (severe hyperprolactinemia: prolactin ≥735 mU/L or 35 ng/mL) is rarely found in ED men (52). Furthermore, the role of PRL in inducing ED is still not clarified. Hyperprolactinemia has been consistently associated with loss of sexual desire (43,53) and development of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, both conditions that can in turn induce ED. However, a direct role of high PRL levels in inducing an impairment of erectile function is not consistently proven (52,54) and, conversely, more recent evidence suggests that lower, rather than higher, PRL levels are associated with impaired erectile function (55-57). For these reasons, at present, the assessment of PRL levels in subjects with ED is not routinely recommended (43) and it could be advisable only in men with hypogonadotropic hypogonadism, as a possible cause of this condition.
This initial release of NO causes rapid and short-term increases in penile blood flow and short-term relaxation of the penile smooth muscle, initiating an erection.  The resulting expansion of penile blood vessels and smooth-muscle relaxation allows more blood to flow into the penis. This increased blood flow (shear stress) activates the eNOS in penile blood vessels causing sustained NO release, continued relaxation and full erection.

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, your ED may well have a psychological link. To confirm this diagnosis, you may want to complete a full psychological evaluation. This is particularly important if you suspect that your ED has something to do with a mental health issue like anxiety or depression that might require additional treatment, either medical or psychosocial.
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