Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
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.
Few simple laboratory tests can help identify obvious causes of organic ED. Initial labs should include HbA1c, free testosterone, thyroid function tests, and prolactin levels. However, patients who do not respond to pharmacological therapy or who may be candidates for surgical treatment may require more in-depth testing, including nocturnal penile tumescence testing, duplex Doppler imaging, somatosensory evoked potentials, or pudendal artery angiography.

Additional information to obtain includes a psychosocial and cultural history to assess past and present relationships, emotional or professional stressors, current and previous psychological/behavioral diagnoses and treatments, educational level and employment status, and location of domicile. A methodical medical history should be obtained to identify medical conditions that might be contributing to the patient’s ED. A thorough physical examination should be performed on all new patients with emphasis on the cardiovascular, genital, endocrine, and neurologic systems. On physical examination in a man with hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle, the penis may initially be contracted and tender to palpation. As the exam proceeds and the patient becomes less anxious, the penile tissue will often noticeably relax.

Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a man is unable to achieve an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. In some cases the man is able to achieve an erection but unable to maintain it long enough to complete the sex act. Most men experience erectile difficulties at some point in their lives, but this is different from ED. According to the Mayo Clinic, those with ED will fail to achieve an erection at least 25 percent of the time. ED has several causes and alcohol consumption can be one of them.


Erectile dysfunction, often referred to as ED, is characterized by a persistent and recurring inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Psychological, physical and lifestyle issues can all cause ED, as can trauma to nerves and arteries. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases with age, but young men can also experience it.
There is also a significant population, which has psychogenic sexual dysfunction, which is likely in a situation of marital conflict, which commonly exists in the families of alcoholics.[18] There is some evidence of this with more than a third of the subjects reporting dissatisfaction with their spouses' responses and / or decreased frequency. This cannot be conclusive without data on nocturnal erection or sexual activity in alternate situations. One of the limitations of this exploratory study is that marital functioning was not specifically assessed.
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:

Physicians make a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction in men who complain of troubles having a hard enough erection or a hard erection that does not last long enough. It is important as you talk with your doctor that you be candid in terms of when your troubles started, how bothersome your erectile dysfunction is, how severe it is, and discuss all your medical conditions along with all prescribed and nonprescribed medications that you are taking. Your doctor will ask several questions to determine if your symptoms are suggestive of erectile dysfunction and to assess its severity and possible causes. Your doctor will try to get information to answer the following questions:

Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction or ED, is a condition in which a man is unable to get or hold an erection long enough to have a satisfactory sex life. Impotence is a common problem, affecting up to half of Australian men between the ages of 40 and 70 years. The risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases as you get older.In the past, doctors considered impotence to be a mainly psychological problem, caused by performance anxiety or stress. Now, doctors know that many cases of impotence have a physical cause, which usually can be treated. Often, a combination of physical and psychological factors contributes to erectile dysfunction.Physical causes of impotencePhysical causes of impotence can include:problems with blood to flow into and out of the penis;damage to the nerves that send signals from the body’s central nervous system to the penis; and, more rarely,a deficiency in testosterone or other hormones.Some medicines can contribute to impotence, as can some types of surgery and radiotherapy treatments.Blocked blood vessels to the penisA very common cause of impotence is when blood flow into the penis is reduced. This can be due to atherosclerosis, also known as hardening of the arteries. In atherosclerosis, the arteries are clogged and narrowed, resulting in reduced blood flow.Risk factors for atherosclerosis include:high cholesterol;high blood pressure;obesity;sleep apnoea;diabetes; andsmoking.If your erection problems are caused by atherosclerosis, there is a chance that the arteries in other parts of your body (e.g. the coronary arteries that supply your heart) are also affected by atherosclerosis. In fact, erection problems may be the first sign that you are at risk of coronary heart disease.Because the arteries to the penis are narrower than those to the heart, you may develop symptoms of erectile dysfunction before you experience any symptoms of heart disease, such as angina. So seeing your doctor about erection problems may be important for your overall physical health.Impotence can also be caused by a blood clot that prevents enough blood from flowing into the penis to cause an erection.Venous leakageIn some men, blood can flow in to the penis easily, but the problem is that it leaks out again, so an erection cannot be sustained. This is called venous leakage. Doctors aren’t certain of the cause of venous leakage, but they can perform surgery to help repair it.Medicines that can cause impotenceMany medicines can cause erection problems as a side effect, including:diuretics (sometimes known as ‘water tablets’ - often used for high blood pressure);high blood pressure medications;cholesterol-lowering medicines (including statins);some types of antipsychotics;antidepressants;cancer treatments;some medicines used to treat heartburn and stomach ulcers;antihistamines;some pain medicines; andcertain epilepsy medications.If you experience impotence after starting a new medication, tell your doctor, who may be able to prescribe a different medicine for you. Don’t stop taking a medicine without first consulting your doctor. You should also tell your doctor about any over-the-counter medicines or complementary remedies you may be taking.The following table contains a list of specific medicines that may cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction. This list may not cover all types of medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction, so always ask your doctor if you are in doubt. Also, for some of these medicines ED is a very rare side effect. Most men taking these medicines do not experience erectile dysfunction.Medicines that may cause erectile dysfunctionType of medicineExamplesACE inhibitorscaptopril (Capoten), enalapril (Renitec), perindopril (Perindo), ramipril (Tritace), and othersAntidepressantsamitriptyline (Endep), clomipramine (Anafranil), desvenlafaxine (Pristiq), fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Aropax), sertraline (Zoloft), venlafaxine (Altven, Efexor), and othersAnti-epilepticsclonazepam (Rivotril), pregabalin (Lyrica)Antifungalsitraconazole (Sporanox)Anti-ulcer drugscimetidine (Magicul), nizatidine (Tazac), ranitidine (Zantac), and othersBeta-blockerspropranolol (Inderal), metoprolol (Betaloc, Lopresor), and othersOther blood pressure-lowering medicinesclonidine (Catapres), lercanidipine/enalapril (Zan-Extra), losartan (Cozaar), perindopril/amlodipine (Coveram), olmesartan/amlodipine (Sevikar), telmisartan/amlodipine (Twynsta), valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide (Co-Diovan)Calcium-channel blockersdiltiazem (Cardizem), felodipine (Plendil), nifedipine (Adalat)Cholesterol-lowering drugsatorvastatin (Lipitor), ezetimibe/simvastatin (Vytorin), fluvastatin (Lescol, Vastin), gemfibrozil (Ausgem), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (APO-simvastatin, Lipex, Zocor), and othersDiuretics ('water tablets')bumetanide (Burinex), chlorthalidone (Hygroton), spironolactone (Aldactone), and othersSchizophrenia drugsamisulpride (Solian, Sulprix), haloperidol (Haldol, Serenace), olanzapine (Lanzek, Ozin, Zypine, Zyprexa), paliperidone (Invega), risperidone (Rispa, Risperdal), ziprasidone (Zeldox)Combination cholesterol-lowering and anti-hypertensiveamlodipine/atorvastatin (Caduet, Cadatin)Pain medicinesfentanyl (Denpax, Durogesic), hydromorphone (Jurnista), morphine (Momex SR, MS Contin), oxycodone (OxyContin, OxyNorm, Targin), tramadolMiscellaneousoestrogens, antiandrogens, anticancer drugs and some chemotherapy treatments, baclofen (Clofen, Lioresal); cyproterone (Androcur, Cyprohexal, Cyprostat), degarelix (Firmagon), etoricoxib (Arcoxia), finasteride (Proscar and Propecia), flutamide (Flutamin), rotigotine (Neupro), triptorelin (Diphereline)*The names in brackets are just some examples of the trade names each specific medicine is marketed under in Australia. The medicine may also be known by other trade names.Diabetes and erectile dysfunctionMen who have diabetes have a higher risk of developing impotence than other men. Diabetes contributes to impotence because it can damage blood vessels and cause a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy.Hormones and impotenceLow levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are more commonly linked to a lowered sex drive, rather than impotence itself. Only a small percentage of cases of impotence are caused by hormone deficiency.Low testosterone levels may be the result of a condition called hypogonadism, in which the testicles don’t produce enough testosterone. More rarely, low testosterone can be caused by the pituitary (a small gland at the base of the brain) not secreting sufficient hormones to stimulate the testes to produce testosterone. The pituitary is also sometimes affected by small benign (non-cancerous) tumours that secrete prolactin, another hormone that can cause impotence.Mildly decreased levels of testosterone are often not due to specific testicular or pituitary problems, but rather stress or depression. In this situation, testosterone replacement is rarely of any benefit.Other hormone problems, including thyroid disease, can also cause impotence.Prostate cancer and erectile dysfunctionThe advanced stages of prostate cancer can affect the nerves and arteries that are vital for an erection.Radiation treatment for prostate cancer can harm the erectile tissues of the penis, and prostate cancer surgery can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis.Treatment for advanced prostate cancer often includes medicines that counteract testosterone, and commonly cause erectile dysfunction as well as loss of sexual interest.Peyronie’s diseasePeyronie’s disease is an uncommon condition that affects a man’s sex life because his penis curves abnormally and causes pain when he has an erection. He might also be unable to have a hard erection. The curvature of the penis is caused by a scar, called a plaque, that forms in the penis.Other physical causes of impotenceSeveral other factors and conditions can contribute to erectile dysfunction, including the following.Depression. Many men find that when they’re suffering from depression, they lose interest in sex and can’t get or keep an erection. Asking your doctor for treatments for depression may help alleviate your erection problems as well.Smoking contributes to vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels), so it can contribute to erectile dysfunction by affecting blood flow to the penis. Giving up smoking often has a beneficial effect on erectile function.Excessive alcohol use. Alcoholism can cause permanent nerve damage, resulting in impotence. This nerve damage is called peripheral neuropathy. Long-term alcohol use can impair the liver’s ability to function, resulting in a hormone imbalance in which a man has too much of the female sex hormone, oestrogen. On a day-to-day level, alcohol dulls the central nervous system, adversely affecting sexual response.Illicit drug use. Illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and amphetamines act on the central nervous system, impairing the body’s ability to respond sexually.Certain exercises. Nerve and artery damage can be caused by prolonged cycling, rodeo riding, or use of a rowing machine, resulting in the inability to get an erection. Often, minimising the use of hard bicycle seats and exercise machine seats, as well as correct positioning of the seat, will help restore sexual function.Surgery to organs near the nerve pathways of the penis, such as the bladder, rectum and prostate, can cause nerve or artery damage to the penis, resulting in the inability to have an erection.Injuries. Impotence can be caused by spinal cord injury; injury to your sex organs; or a pelvic fracture, which can cause damage to the nerves of the penis, or damage the blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood flow to the penis.Conditions affecting the nervous system. Multiple sclerosis (MS) and other degenerative diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, can damage the nerves involved in erections.Psychological causes of impotenceMost cases of impotence have physical causes, but, in some men, psychological factors are the main contributors to impotence.Impotence that’s triggered by psychological factors is more common in men who are sexually inexperienced. Psychological erectile dysfunction may only occur when you’re with just one particular person. You’re also more likely to have morning erections, and be able to have an erection when you masturbate, than men whose impotence has a physical cause.Here are some psychological factors that can have an impact on your erections.Stress and anxietyWhen you’re stressed and focusing on other issues apart from sex, you might find that you don’t want to have sex as often and there might be a drop in your ability to perform when you do try. You might find that tackling the source of your stress can have benefits in the bedroom as well.Fear of failureAnxiety about your sexual prowess (commonly called performance anxiety) can, in itself, contribute to failure. By putting pressure on yourself, you become too anxious to get an adequate erection.Most men experience isolated episodes of erectile failure. Even when the transient physical cause has passed, anxiety that it may recur is sufficient to prevent erection. Anxiety, whether about something specifically sexual or part of a wider anxiety syndrome, is never helpful to good sexual function.Problems with your relationship and impotenceImpotence may be a manifestation of a poor relationship, or a problematic time in a relationship. Sexual boredom, tension or anger among partners, and lack of intimacy and communication are all possible triggers of erectile dysfunction. In these cases, seeing a counsellor may help.It’s worth remembering that impotence is a complex medical condition, which may have more than one cause. For example, if impotence is the result of a side effect of medicine or an underlying disease, the anxiety caused by lack of performance may perpetuate the erectile dysfunction even after the physical cause has been dealt with.Almost any chronic (ongoing) physical or mental health disorder, including those with no direct effect on penile nerves or blood supply, can have a powerful effect on sexuality, sexual self-image and erectile function.If you’re worried about your sexual response or the quality of your erections, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor, who has access to treatments that can help. Last Reviewed: 16 December 2016
Burnett, whose lab has studied penile erection since the early 1990s, continues, "the insight here is tremendous because it speaks to fundamental biological and vascular" mechanisms of diabetes. "This paper gets back to the physiological relevance of hyperglycemia and how it affects erection.  We show here -- using erection as a model -- the vascular damage caused by diabetes and provide insights into vascular disease beyond this dysfunction," he adds.

Other hormone levels: Measurement of other hormones beside testosterone (luteinizing hormone [LH], prolactin level, and cortisol level) may provide clues to other underlying causes of testosterone deficiency and erectile problems, such as pituitary disease or adrenal gland abnormalities. Doctors may check thyroid levels in some individuals as both hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function) can contribute to erectile dysfunction.

The association between psychiatric conditions and sexual dysfunctions, including ED, is well known. Data from population-based studies demonstrate a cross-sectional association between depressive symptoms and ED (65-68) and, among men seeking medical care for ED, depression is significantly associated with a greater severity of the impairment in erectile function (69,70). A meta-analysis of the available prospective studies has shown the role of depression as a significant risk factor for development of ED (71). However, the relationship seems to be bidirectional, as also ED has been associated with the occurrence of depression (72). In addition, treatment with PDE5i is related with an improvement in depressive symptoms (72). Most of this evidence comes from studies not specifically designed for the assessment of this relationship in younger men. However, few studies available in younger populations seem to confirm these results. In an internet-based survey, involving more than 800 North American medical students with a mean age of 25.7 years, ED was reported by 13% of them and it showed a significant association with depressive symptoms, whose frequency got higher as a function of ED severity (73). In a population of more than 2,500 very young Swiss men, aged 18–25 years, participating to a survey on sexual function while attending the medical screening for the evaluation of military capability, ED had a prevalence of 30%. Among the possible correlated conditions, mental health showed an independent association, besides the use of medications without medical prescription, a shorter sexual lifespan and impaired physical health (74). The results from this Swiss study were then prospectively extended on a sample of 3,700 men evaluated at baseline and 15.5 months later (75). Among a number of different possible predictors, including life-style, drug abuse, perceived physical fitness and BMI, only perceived impairment in mental health and depression, either newly occurred or continuously present, were associated with both persistence and development of ED (75). In a retrospective population-based study from Finland, involving almost 3,500 men aged 18–48 years, the role of depression as a significant predictor for ED was confirmed, but this study also showed that anxiety plays a significant role and that ED is significantly less frequent in men with a longer lasting sexual life, thus underlining the positive role of sexual experience and self-confidence (76). Anxiety is often involved in the pathogenesis of ED at the beginning of sexual life. In fact, anxiety can lead to an excessive focus on quality of erection, thus providing a cognitive distraction that negatively affects the arousal and consequently the erection itself (77-79). On the other hand, anxiety can result from one or more sexual failures, with loss of sexual confidence, increasing fears and avoidance for sexual experiences that, in the end, lead to an increased probability of new failures, thus creating a vicious circle (77). Cognitive distraction could be also provided by excessive worry for physical, and in particular genital, self-image. In fact, it has been proposed that when most mental energy is focused on monitoring body, psychological resources are distracted from sex, resulting in an impaired functioning (80,81). In line with this cognitive explanation, a recent study conducted on 367 military personnel younger than 40 years showed that a deteriorated genital self-image is associated with sexual anxiety which, in turn, is associated with a higher probability of sexual dysfunction (82).
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.
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
The urologist must discuss the topic of ED delicately and caringly in order to earn the patient’s trust and be permitted to address his problem (15). It is important early during the visit to engage the patient and provide him reassurance that you will work as a team to evaluate and treat his disorder. A detailed history is the most important component of the evaluation. A thorough sexual history has many components. It should begin with information regarding onset, duration, severity, patient-suspected etiology of the ED. Ask the patient to define his specific concerns. The term “erectile dysfunction” is very broad, and the patient may actually have arousal issues or ejaculatory concerns or a combination of concerns. Ask specific questions regarding erectile hardness and sustainability during self-stimulation versus with a partner (global versus situational ED). Determine if the patient has ED in certain positions (lying down versus upright or seated). Inquire about libido and nocturnal erections. It is also important to ask the patient about past treatments and response. Inquire about any concomitant pain issues, irritative or obstructive voiding symptoms, or pelvic floor complaints.
It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more. While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your doctor if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.
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.
Alcohol consumption is a common behavior in social circumstances worldwide. Epidemiological studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption reduces cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The cardiovascular protective effects of alcohol may be attributed to its antioxidant, vasorelaxant, and antithrombotic properties, elevation of high-density lipoprotein or increase of nitric oxide production. Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a harbinger of cardiovascular diseases. Most epidemiological studies have also found that alcohol consumption, like its relationship with coronary artery disease, is related to ED in a J-shaped manner, with moderate consumption conferring the highest protection and higher consumption less benefits. In epidemio-logical studies, it is difficult to distinguish the ethanol effects from those of associated confounding factors. Meanwhile, long-term alcohol users, especially in those with alcohol liver disease, are highly associated with ED. More research is needed to investigate the true effects of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular diseases or ED.
Inflatable prostheses are complex mechanical devices that imitate the natural process of erection. Parts are inserted surgically into the penis and scrotum, and activated by squeezing. When erection is no longer desired, a valve on the pump is pressed, and the penis becomes flaccid. Self-contained single-unit prostheses are similar to the inflatable types, but more compact. The entire device is implanted into the penis. When erection is desired, the unit is activated by either squeezing or bending, depending on which of the two types of self-contained prostheses is used.
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