3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.

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.
Quitting smoking, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, curtailing excessive alcohol consumption, controlling hypertension, and optimizing blood glucose levels in patients with diabetes are not only important for maintaining good health but also may improve or even prevent progression of erectile dysfunction. It is unclear if such lifestyle changes can reverse erectile dysfunction. However, lifestyle improvements may prevent progression of the erectile dysfunction. Some studies suggest that men who have made lifestyle improvements experience increased rates of success with oral medications.

*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.


A sexually competent male must have a series of events occur and multiple mechanisms intact for normal erectile function. He must 1) have desire for his sexual partner (libido), 2) be able to divert blood from the iliac artery into the corpora cavernosae to achieve penile tumescence and rigidity (erection) adequate for penetration, 3) discharge sperm and prostatic/seminal fluid through his urethra (ejaculation), and 4) experience a sense of pleasure (orgasm). A man is considered to have ED if he cannot achieve or sustain an erection of sufficient rigidity for sexual intercourse. Most men, at one time or another during their life, experience periodic or isolated sexual failures. However, the term “impotent” is reserved for those men who experience erectile failure during attempted intercourse more than 75% of the time.
Since the decrease in T levels is often a consequence of obesity or weight gain (51), the milestone of treating testosterone deficiency in obese men is encouraging substantial lifestyle changes, including physical activity and weight loss. In fact, it is universally recognized that a low calorie diet or bariatric surgery can induce a significant increase in T plasma levels, reaching 10 nmol/L with the most invasive surgical procedures (62). Weight loss-induced T rise is more evident in young individuals (62), and, therefore, it must be strongly recommended in this age band.
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
A 2009 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found less volume of liquid in the body in conjunction with a depressed nervous system, led to a struggle with sexual performance. This is because alcohol can dehydrate the body, decreasing blood volume while increasing the hormone associated with erectile dysfunction — angiotensin. The body is able to work at optimal capacity by staying hydrated, since major biological activities and functions utilize water molecules.
Low intracavernosal nitric oxide synthase levels are found in people with diabetes, smokers, and men with testosterone deficiency. Interference with oxygen delivery or nitric oxide synthesis can prevent intracavernosal blood pressure from rising to a level sufficient to impede emissary vein outflow, leading to an inability to acquire or sustain rigid erection. Examples include decreased blood flow and inadequate intracavernosal oxygen levels when atherosclerosis involves the hypogastric artery or other feeder vessels and conditions, such as diabetes, that are associated with suboptimal nitric oxide synthase activity.
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.
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.
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.
With that said, the only data we’re going to focus on here are the results of large, nationally representative sex surveys because they offer the best source of information when it comes to trying to establish realistic prevalence rates and how they might have changed over time. Data from convenience samples of college students just aren’t reliable enough for these purposes.
As you can imagine, these symptoms can make it difficult to take pleasure in much of anything, let alone sex. A study published in a 1998 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine shows a clear link between depression and erectile dysfunction in men. Using data obtained from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, researchers were able to conclude that a relationship between depressive symptoms and erectile dysfunction existed and was independent of aging and demographics.
That doesn’t mean you need to cut back completely — most experts say moderation is key. But what's “moderation” exactly? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is no more than two drinks a day for men (and one drink a day for women). The liver can only break down the amount of alcohol in about one standard-size drink an hour, so regularly drinking more than that means that toxins from alcohol can build up in your body and affect your organs, including those involved in sex.
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.

Depression. The profound sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness that characterize depression may also cause ED among younger men. “The biggest effect of depression is on a man’s desire for sexual relations, or libido,” says Drogo Montague, MD, director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction in the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “To some extent, depression can affect a man’s ability to maintain an erection. It can be a chicken-and-egg situation. However, reduced libido is a common indicator of depression.”


Erectile dysfunction related to medical/physical causes is often treatable but less commonly curable. In some cases of medication-induced erectile dysfunction, changes in medication may improve erections. Similarly, in men with a history of arterial trauma, surgical intervention can restore erectile dysfunction. In most cases of ED associated with a medical condition, treatment allows one to have an erection "on demand" or with the aid of medications/device (but not spontaneous).
Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Cardiovascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of erectile dysfunction in men older than 50 years. Cardiovascular causes include those that affect arteries and veins. Damage to arteries that bring blood flow into the penis may occur from hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) or trauma to the pelvis/perineum (for example, pelvic fracture, long-distance bicycle riding).
Mental causes of sexual dysfunction include: depression, stress, anxiety and insomnia.  When one of these conditions leads to ED, usually once the condition is cured normal sexual behavior returns.  If you believe you have one of these conditions, see your doctor for an evaluation before beginning any treatment.  One side effect of antidepressants is erectile dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of diabetes in women? Diabetes can have different effects on men and women. Learn all about the symptoms of diabetes experienced by women with this article, including how the disease may affect pregnancy and the menopause. This MNT Knowledge Center article will also look at gestational diabetes and the risk factors involved. Read now


Excessive drinking is a common cause of erectile dysfunction, according to the Mayo Clinic. As the amount of alcohol in the blood increases, the alcohol decreases the brain’s ability to sense sexual stimulation. As a depressant, alcohol directly affects the penis by interfering with parts of the nervous system that are essential for sexual arousal and orgasm, including respiration, circulation, and sensitivity of nerve endings, according to Health Promotion at Brown University.
For an adult, there are not too many effects of diet on growth and development, but for children effects can be dramatic. The adolescent body needs a certain amount of protein, vitamins, and fat for healthy development. Speak to a pediatrician before putting a child on a diet. For an adult, if you are obese, use a high protein diet, but only for a short time to jump start weight loss, then move to a healthy eating program.
Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).
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 causes of ED are numerous but generally fall into two categories: organic or psychogenic. The organic causes can be subdivied into five categories: vascular, traumatic/postsurgical, neurological, endocrine-induced, and drug-induced. Examples of the psychogenic causes are depression, performance anxiety, and relationship problems. In people with diabetes, the main risk factors are neuropathy, vascular insufficiency, poor glycemic control, hypertension, low testosterone levels, and possibly a history of smoking.
Care for these patients, who in many cases are emotional, demanding, and time consuming, may evoke feelings of frustration and anticipatory anxiety in the time-strapped urologist. Early in the encounter, the urologist must understand the patient’s psychosocial environment and establish a rapport and meaningful alliance with the patient and his family, if present (13). It is important to ensure that the doctor-patient interaction is informative and task oriented for greater patient buy-in and compliance with treatment (13,14). Affirm to the patient that regardless of the short time allotted for the visit that the doctor-patient relationship will endure even after the visit. This may be accomplished through a scheduled follow-up telephone call, electronic message, follow-up clinic visit, or a written letter. It may also be beneficial to refer the patient to a sex therapist or counselor though many young men will reject the idea that there is a psychosocial element to their ED and may refuse to consider therapy.
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Men with diabetes are at a higher risk of erectile dysfunction or impotence, especially if their diabetes is not well controlled. Erectile dysfunction means you cannot have an erection that is sufficient to perform sexual intercourse. Many men experience short-term episodes of erectile dysfunction but, for about one in 10 men, the problem may continue.
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.
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.
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