But don’t panic. ED can be caused by a number of factors, from depression and medication side effects to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low testosterone levels, Peyronie’s disease, nerve damage, performance anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Even better, many of these ED causes are treatable with medication and simple lifestyle changes. It’s important to know the root cause of your erectile dysfunction in order to treat it in the fastest, most effective way possible. Here are the 5 most common causes of erectile dysfunction.
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).
Having learned a great deal more about erectile dysfunction including its risk factors and causes, you should be equipped to assess your own erectile function. If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. If you choose to seek help, give your doctor as much information as you can about your symptoms including their frequency and severity as well as the onset. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.
The symptoms of erectile dysfunction include difficulty achieving an erection, trouble maintaining an erection, and a reduced interest in sex. Because male sexual arousal is a fairly complex process, it can sometimes be difficult to identify a specific cause. Arousal starts in the brain but it also involves the nerves, muscles, and blood vessels and can be impacted by hormones and emotions. If a problem develops with any of these things, erectile dysfunction could be the consequence.
Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.
"Stress and anxiety can adversely affect sexual performance and are common causes of erectile dysfunction,” warns Feloney. “Feelings of stress and anxiety can also lead to depression and a loss of interest in sex." It's important to get these feelings out in the open where you can deal with them. Issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include fear from previous bad experiences with sex, family or work related stress, poor communication with your partner, and unrealistic goals and expectations.
For most men, improving erectile dysfunction means improving blood flow to the penis. Immediate relief often requires medications that increases nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the penis. NO causes the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels of the penis to stretch, which increases the flow of blood. NO also keeps the smooth muscle cells younger and helps prevent and even reverse hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels over time. Proper diet (see more below) and regular exercise are key because both can boost NO.
Knowing about your history of ED will help your health provider learn if your problems are because of your desire for sex, erection function, ejaculation, or orgasm (climax). Some of these questions may seem private or even embarrassing. However, be assured that your doctor is a professional and your honest answers will help find the cause and best treatment for you.
Surprisingly, one of the main causes of erectile dysfunction (ED) or impotence may be in that icy mug of beer you are enjoying right now! A common cause of difficulty with erection is overuse of alcohol. Small amounts of alcohol can help us relax and help remove inhibitions, which can help the sexual mood and actually increase sexual activity. Nevertheless, as the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol only serves to depress the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation.
Not only can guilt affect your ability to perform sexually, but so can low self-esteem. The correlation between erectile dysfunction and low self-esteem seems obvious from one direction – an inability to perform in the bedroom can cause you to feel bad about yourself. But how does low self-esteem cause ED? Self-esteem is defined as, “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.”
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.
This is a 22-year-old man who presents with no medical or surgical history who reports that he has never had a rigid erection in his life. He reports normal libido, penile sensation, orgasm, and ejaculation. The remainder of his history is negative. His physical examination is normal with normal genital exam and secondary sexual characteristics. He reported no significant change in erection with PDE5 inhibitors.
Unconventional CV risk factors, such as impaired erections during masturbation and reduced flaccid acceleration, are interesting parameters to implement in Sexual Medicine context, because they can help fill the gap of information on CV risk, left by the conventional risk factors (the so-called residual risk) (38). However, it should be recognized that not all the healthcare professionals who deal with the complaint of ED (i.e., general practitioners, diabetologists, cardiologists, sport physicians, nurses, etc.) have the facilities or competence for the specific assessment of these parameters. In contexts different than Sexual Medicine and Andrology, the assessment of conventional risk factors is certainly more convenient. Metabolic syndrome (MetS) represents a cluster of metabolic derangements easily and commonly evaluated in several different medical contexts. In a population of more than 600 subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for ED, the presence of MetS was associated with an increased incidence of MACE during 4.3 years of follow-up in younger (first tertile of age: 18–52 years) (Figure 3, Panel A and B) but not in middle aged and older men (second and third tertiles of age: 53–60 and 61–88 years, respectively) (Figure 3, Panel B). Similar to MetS, the algorithms for estimating the risk of developing MACE are easily computed and they take into account factors largely available in a clinical setting. In Europe, the most commonly used algorithm is the SCORE, which takes into account age, smoking habits, systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol (26). These parameters are introduced in a calculation tool that returns the 10-year risk of developing the first MACE. The same estimated risk rate can obviously be derived from different combinations and extent of the single risk factors and, as aforementioned, age has a heavy weight in the amount of risk, even when the other parameters are normal. For overcoming this overestimation, the concept of vascular age, based on the predicted CV risk, has been introduced. Vascular age of a subjects with a specific CV risk profile corresponds to the chronological age of a subjects who has the same estimated risk but only due to chronological age, because of the absence of the other modifiable risk factors (i.e., a non-smoker, normotensive and normocholesterolemic subject) (39,40). Vascular age carries the advantage of easily and directly communicating the concept of high relative risk to patients, in particular to younger ones, who are by definition at low absolute risk (“Your CV risk is the same of a man that is 15 years older than you”). Based on this interesting and useful concept of vascular age, we recently studied the clinical consequences of having a high discrepancy between the estimated vascular and the actual chronological age in our population of men consulting for ED. In our sample, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with higher glucose and triglyceride levels as well as with impaired penile colour Doppler ultrasound parameters, suggesting a CV impairment (41). When evaluating the subset of men for whom information on incident MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with the incidence of MACE in younger, but not in older men (42).
A study published in May 2014 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that some men can reverse erectile dysfunction with healthy lifestyle changes, such as exercise, weight loss, a varied diet, and good sleep. The Australian researchers also showed that even if erectile dysfunction medication is required, it's likely to be more effective if you implement these healthy lifestyle changes.
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.
The improvement of both man and woman sexual function in couples whose male partner is treated with PDE5i has been further confirmed by randomized clinical trials (RCTs) comparing the effectiveness of PDE5i vs. placebo in improving couple sexual function (91-95). In a more recent RCT, the use of vardenafil 10 mg oral dispersible tablets has been compared to the use of the drug itself in association with cognitive behavioral sexual therapy (CBST) for 10 weeks in 30 couples with ED male partners, randomly assigned to one study arm (96). Results from this RCT showed that vardenafil is able to improve male sexual function, but this improvement is maintained only in patients receiving both vardenafil and CBST. Furthermore, female sexual function and satisfaction are enhanced only in the arm with vardenafil and CBST combined therapy, thus suggesting that a therapy healing the couple is more effective and has a longer-lasting efficacy than the use of a medication focusing only on ED.
Ganio, M. S., Armstrong, L. E., Casa, D. J., & McDermott, B. P. (2011, November 28). Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men [Abstract]. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(10), 1535–1543. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/mild-dehydration-impairs-cognitive-performance-and-mood-of-men/3388AB36B8DF73E844C9AD19271A75BF#
For many men, stopping smoking is an erectile dysfunction remedy, particularly when ED is the result of vascular disease, which occurs when blood supply to the penis becomes restricted because of blockage or narrowing of the arteries. Smoking and even smokeless tobacco can also cause the narrowing of important blood vessels and have the same negative impact.
When blood sugar levels are out of control, nerve and blood vessel damage occurs throughout your body. Nerve damage breaks down the ability to turn sexual stimulation into an erection.6 Poor blood circulation reduces blood flow to the penis. Together they impact your ability to get an erection that is rigid and lasts long enough for sexual satisfaction.
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.
Association between severity of erectile dysfunction and SIEDY Scale 1, Scale 2 and Scale 3 (organic, relational and intrapsychic pathogenetic components of erectile dysfunction, respectively). Data are derived from a population of 1,873 men aged 18–44 years, representing the first tertile of age in a population of patients consulting the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for erectile dysfunction. Data are adjusted for age, smoking habits, alcohol intake and education. Erectile dysfunction is defined according to a previously validated definition (21) using the sum of the scores obtained from question 1A (Do you have full erection sufficient for penetration? Rating 0= always, 1= often, 2= quite often and 3= sometimes) and question 2 (Does it occur to have a normal erection which you are not able to maintain? Rating 0= sometimes, 1= quite often, 2= often, and 3= always) of SIEDY, which reproduce the definition of erectile dysfunction as “The persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual activity” (1). SIEDY, Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction.
If you are taking medications (alpha-blockers) for problems with an enlarged prostate, you should discuss your prostate medications with your doctor. Alpha-blockers also can cause lowering of the blood pressure. Thus your doctor will need to carefully watch your blood pressure when you start the PDE5 inhibitor. Common alpha-blockers include doxazosin (Cardura), terazosin (Hytrin), and tamsulosin (Flomax).
The second option is a prosthesis or penile implant: a kind of hydraulic device surgically implanted in the penis. The prostheses consist of two rods that fit inside the penis, a pump that sits inside the scrotum next to the testicles, and a little reservoir that houses fluid that sits under the groin muscles. When a person wants to be intimate, they pump up the prostheses; afterward, they can use a button to reverse it.
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.
Diabetes is a serious disease requiring professional medical attention. The information and recipes on this site, although as accurate and timely as feasibly possible, should not be considered as medical advice, nor as a substitute for the same. All recipes and menus are provided with the implied understanding that directions for exchange sizes will be strictly adhered to, and that blood glucose levels can be affected by not following individualized dietary guidelines as directed by your physician and/or healthcare team.
Rates of erectile dysfunction have significantly increased over the last 15 years, especially in men younger than 40. In 2002, a review of 23 studies from Europe, the United States, Asia and Australia found that the rate of erectile dysfunction in that age group was two per cent. More recent studies suggest that erectile dysfunction is becoming more prevalent in younger men, with as many as 15 per cent of men in that age group battling it.
Medications: Many common medicines produce erectile dysfunction as a side effect. Medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include many used to treat high blood pressure, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, and appetite suppressants. Examples of common medicines that can cause erectile dysfunction include propranolol (Inderal) or other beta-blockers, hydrochlorothiazide, digoxin (Lanoxin), amitriptyline (Elavil), famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), metoclopramide (Reglan), naproxen, indomethacin (Indocin), lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid), verapamil (Calan, Verelan, Isoptin), phenytoin (Dilantin), gemfibrozil (Lopid), amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall), and phentermine. Prostate cancer medications that lower testosterone levels such as leuprolide (Lupron) may affect erectile function. Some chemotherapies such as cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan) may affect erectile function.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common and highly effective treatment for psychological issues in general, but also for ED. Facilitated by a therapist, this type of treatment helps you to identify and change unhealthy patterns of thought and action which may be contributing to your erectile issues. This kind of treatment is based on the idea that the situation itself (your inability to achieve or maintain an erection) is not the core problem, but rather your reaction to it. If you can learn to better understand yourself and your thought patterns, you can change them in a positive way to resolve your issues.
These medications don’t work for everyone but they are easy to use and work for around 60% of people who try them. They work by making it easier to get an erection by reducing the effect of (inhibiting) the chemical PDE-5. This chemical is used in the body to make sure there isn’t too much blood in the penis during an erection, but if you have erectile dysfunction then this chemical ends up over-compensating.
Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.
Many different health conditions can affect the nerves, muscles, or blood flow that is needed to have an erection. Diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, spinal cord injuries, and multiple sclerosis can contribute to ED. Surgery to treat prostate or bladder problems can also affect the nerves and blood vessels that control an erection.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
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.
Erections also require neural input to redirect blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Psychogenic erections secondary to sexual images or auditory stimuli relay sensual input to the spinal cord at T-11 to L-2. Neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood flow into the corpora cavernosae. Reflex erections secondary to tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area activate a reflex arc with sacral roots at S2 to S4. Nocturnal erections occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep and occur 3–4 times nightly. Depressed men rarely experience REM sleep and therefore do not have nocturnal or early-morning erections.
The recommended starting dose of tadalafil for use as needed for most patients is 10 mg taken orally approximately one hour before sexual activity. A doctor may adjust the dose higher to 20 mg or lower to 5 mg depending on efficacy and side effects. Doctors recommended that patients take tadalafil no more frequently than once per day. Some patients can take tadalafil less frequently since the improvement in erectile function may last 36 hours. Patients may take tadalafil with or without food. Tadalafil is currently the only PDE5 inhibitor that is FDA-approved for daily use for erectile dysfunction and is available in 2.5 mg or 5 mg dosages for daily use.
It was recommended that the patient focus on relaxation techniques, increase cardiovascular exercise, take cialis 5 mg PO prn as it is effective, and to start scheduled terazosin 1 mg po at bedtime to relax the hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle. It was recommended that he utilize lubricants for masturbation, that he decrease the frequency of masturbation, and that he investigate vibrators to increase glanular stimulation if necessary. It was also recommended that he stop using the various alternative therapies that he has been using for the past 6 months (topicals, lasers, electromagnetic therapies, hyperbaric oxygen), which were likely confounding the issue. At follow up, 4 weeks after the initial visit, the patient reported 60% improvement in his symptoms with seldom use of PDE5 inhibitors.
In many ways, performance anxiety becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein you become nervous about being able to satisfy your partner and the nerves lead to sexual dysfunction. In many cases, performance anxiety is triggered by negative self-talk – worries about being able to achieve an erection, pleasing a partner, or ejaculating too early. If you have had erectile issues in the past, those experiences will add to the weight of performance anxiety.
Additionally, speaking to more than just the sexual issues related to erectile dysfunction, the research addresses implications related to the overall understanding of penile health. According to Arthur Burnett, M.D., a professor of urology and head of the research team, "eNOS plays roles in both immediate erectile response and the overall health and function of the penile tissue."
Nonsustained erection with detumescence after penetration is most commonly caused by anxiety or the vascular steel syndrome. In the vascular steel syndrome, blood is diverted from the engorged corpora cavernosae to accommodate the oxygen requirements of the thrusting pelvis. Questions should be asked regarding the presence or absence of nocturnal or morning erections and the ability to masturbate. Complete loss of nocturnal erections and the ability to masturbate are signs of neurological or vascular disease. It is important to remember that sexual desire is not lost with ED—only the ability to act on those emotions.
*all photos are models and not actual patients.If you are interested in a prescription product, Hims will assist in setting up a visit for you with an independent physician who will evaluate whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for the prescription product and if appropriate, may write you a prescription for the product which you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice.
Some men should not take PDE5 inhibitors. They can cause hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure that can lead to fainting and even shock) when given to patients who are taking nitrates (medications taken for heart disease). Therefore, patients taking nitrates daily should not take any of the PDE5 inhibitors. Nitrates relieve angina (chest pain due to insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle because of narrowing of the coronary arteries); these include nitroglycerine tablets, patches, ointments, sprays, and pastes, as well as isosorbide dinitrate and isosorbide mononitrate. Other nitrates such as amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate also are in some recreational drugs called "poppers."
A vacuum erection device is a plastic tube that slips over the penis, making a seal with the skin of the body. A pump at the other end of the tube makes a low-pressure vacuum around the erectile tissue, which results in an erection. An elastic ring is then slipped onto the base of the penis. This holds the blood in the penis (and keeps it hard) for up to 30 minutes. With proper training, 75 out of 100 men can get a working erection using a vacuum erection device.
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.