Having erection trouble from time to time isn't necessarily a cause for concern. If erectile dysfunction is an ongoing issue, however, it can cause stress, affect your self-confidence and contribute to relationship problems. Problems getting or keeping an erection can also be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs treatment and a risk factor for heart disease.
Treatments include psychotherapy, adopting a healthy lifestyle, oral phosphodiesterase type V (PDE5) inhibitors (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Stendra, and Staxyn), intraurethral prostaglandin E1 (MUSE), intracavernosal injections (prostaglandin E1 [Caverject, Edex], Bimix and Trimix), vacuum devices, penile prosthesis and vascular surgery, and (in some cases) changes in medications when appropriate.

The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.


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.
The various PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of ED share several common side effects, including headache, flushing, nasal congestion, nausea, dyspepsia (stomach discomfort), and diarrhea. Differences exist in side effects of the different PDE5 inhibitors, and thus it is important to be familiar with the prescribing information of the PDE5 inhibitor you are prescribed.

Research has shown that the same eating patterns that can cause heart attacks due to restricted blood flow in the coronary arteries can also impede blood flow to and within the penis. The blood flow is needed for the penis to become erect. Diets that include very few fruits and vegetables along with lots of fatty, fried, and processed foods can contribute to decreased blood circulation throughout the body.

Dr. Jonas Bovijn is the co-first author of the study and is from the Big Data Institute at the University of Oxford. He said: “We know that there is observational evidence linking erectile dysfunction and type 2 diabetes, but until now there has not been definitive evidence to show that predisposition to type 2 diabetes causes erectile dysfunction.”


Studies show that high cholesterol and obesity are linked to erectile dysfunction, and both can be improved through diet. "A heart-healthy diet that prevents cardiovascular disease and maintains a healthy weight is also good for erectile functioning," says Feloney. An ideal diet plan involves eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and having frequent servings of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of whole grains.
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.
Medications for erectile dysfunction don't work for everyone and may cause side effects that make a particular drug hard to take. "Work with your doctor to find the right treatment. There are still options for people who fail at medical treatment," advises Feloney. Alternatives to erectile dysfunction drugs include vacuum pump devices, medications injected into the penis, testosterone replacement if needed, and a surgical penile implant.
Injury to the nerves and arteries near the penis can lead to erectile dysfunction. According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, surgeries for prostate and bladder cancer can injure penile nerves and arteries, although it doesn’t always happen. Spinal cord injuries can affect the ability to achieve and maintain an erection, as can injuries to the penis, prostate, bladder and pelvis.
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!
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.
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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