Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
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.
Then you have to be able to make the right diagnosis. What is the basis for their erectile dysfunction? Is it psychogenic? Is it some sort of neurological or blood vessel or hormonal issue? So you have to make a diagnosis. You have to be able to make an assessment. And then only after those things are done, then you start to think about medications.
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.

For patients who have ED related to hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle and excessive sympathetic discharge, we recommend a trial of a low-dose alpha adrenergic blocker, such as terazosin 1 mg PO at bedtime nightly. We typically increase the dosage as needed every 2–3 weeks for 3–5 months until the patient experiences improvement of the erection or we determine that treatment is ineffective. We explain the potential side effects of orthostasis, dizziness, and retrograde ejaculation in detail. We also take great care and time in explaining to the patient, and his family/partner if present, the pathophysiologic mechanism of their erectile dysfunction and the biological basis of the treatment plan. This detailed discussion helps to engage the patient in the treatment plan and provides encouragement regarding the potential for response to treatment and recovery. During these encounters, we utilize teaching tools, such as diagrams, drawings, printed handouts, and other visual aids to ensure that the discussion is patient-focused and patient-friendly. Patient education is critical to exploring treatment options and developing confidence in our ability to treat the ED, and their own ability to overcome and eventually resolve the problem of ED.


All of these medicines work by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow in the penis during sexual stimulation. You should not take any of these medicines to treat ED if you are taking nitrates to treat a heart condition. Nitrates widen and relax your blood vessels. The combination can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, which may cause you to become faint or dizzy, or fall, leading to possible injuries.
The lab testing obtained for the evaluation of erectile dysfunction may vary with the information obtained on the health history, physical examination, and recent lab testing. A testosterone level is not necessary in all men; however, a physician will order labs to determine a patient's testosterone level if other signs and symptoms of hypogonadism (low testosterone) such as decreased libido, loss of body hair, muscle loss, breast enlargement, osteoporosis, infertility, and decreased penile/testicular size are present.
Another risk factor is that men with type 2 diabetes may produce less than normal amounts of testosterone, a condition called hypogonadism. A 2007 study found that one-third of men with type 2 diabetes had low testosterone levels. Those men were also more likely to have ED, though the link may have to do with weight, not diabetes per se. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for hypogonadism.
You might consider having a few drinks to get in the mood, but overindulging could make it harder for you to finish the act. Heavy alcohol use can interfere with erections, but the effects are usually temporary. The good news is that moderate drinking -- one or two drinks a day -- might have health benefits like reducing heart disease risks. And those risks are similar to erectile dysfunction risks.
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. 

ED is common and has a significant impact on men and their partners. The first step is acknowledging that ED is affecting you and that it bothers you. If so, then it is time to get help. Often your primary care health provider can start the evaluation of your ED to determine if there are any potential reversible causes. It is important to be evaluated if you have ED as ED is often caused by medical conditions, which if not recognized and treated, could cause you harm. Did you know that the ED is a strong predictor of underlying cardiovascular disease? If you have underlying cardiovascular disease, your primary health care provider or a specialist (if needed) needs to make sure it is safe for you to participate in sexual activity.

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.

Side effects of sildenafil are similar to those from taking niacin or any vasodilator, namely, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, and flushing. Some individuals experience a bluish tinge of their cornea, which makes them feel as if they are wearing light blue–tinted sunglasses. This effect can last for several hours. Syncope and myocardial infarction, the most serious side effects, are seen in men who are also taking nitrates for coronary heart disease. Sildenafil also has adverse effects in people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy because a decrease in preload and after load in the cardiac output can increase the outflow obstruction, culminating in an unstable hemodynamic state.


Pornography addiction or dependence is a potential cause for ED that many men fail to consider. If you spend a great deal of time watching and masturbating to pornography, it could cause you to develop unrealistic expectations about sex or about your sexual partners. When this happens, your brain becomes “trained” to not only expect but, in a way, to need that kind of experience in order to achieve arousal and climax. Researchers have actually studied this effect and have given the condition its own name – pornography-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED).
“Although having sex at 70 is not the same as having sex at 20, erectile dysfunction is not a normal part of aging,” according to Michael Feloney, MD, urologic surgeon and expert on sexual dysfunction issues at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “You should still be able to have a satisfying sex life as you age." If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, these 10 dos and don'ts may help.
Infection is a concern after placement of a prosthesis and is a reported complication in 8%-20% of men undergoing placement of a penile prosthesis. If a prosthesis becomes infected (redness, pain, and swelling of the penis and sometimes purulent drainage are signs of infection), the prosthesis must be removed. Depending on the timing and severity of the infection and your surgeon's preference, the area can be irrigated extensively with antibiotic solutions and a new prosthesis placed at the same time or removal of the infected prosthesis and an attempt to place a new prosthesis made at a later time when the infection is totally cleared.
All three of these involve specific bodily systems including the hormones, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, and emotions. If any of these systems become compromised, it can cause ED. In the case of anxiety and stress, these things can affect the brain’s ability to send the necessary signals to trigger the desired physical response – an erection. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to an ongoing cycle of ED, as mentioned earlier.
The causes of erectile dysfunction include aging, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, cigarette smoking, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), depression, nerve or spinal cord damage, medication side effects, alcoholism or other substance (drug) abuse, pelvic surgery including radical prostatectomy, pelvic radiation, penile/perineal/pelvic trauma such as pelvic fracture, Peyronie's disease (a disorder that causes curvature of the penis and sometimes painful erections), and low testosterone levels.

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.
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.
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 physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
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.
Aging: There are two reasons why older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men. First, older men are more likely to develop diseases (such as heart attacks, angina, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure) that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Second, the aging process alone can cause erectile dysfunction in some men by causing changes in the muscle and tissue within the penis.
 Other treatment options such as penile self-injection therapy, external vacuum pumps and the medicated urethral system for erection are on rare occasions an effective long-term treatment. A very small percentage of men will continue with these treatments as evidenced by a very high drop out rate and a very low refill rate for these treatments. These procedures require extensive planning which interfere with sexual spontaneity and are really not a realistic long-term treatment for young patients with permanent ED. 

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.

This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.


The number of sexual dysfunction complaints was significantly associated with the amount of alcohol consumed per day. On curve-fitting the data, there was a significant positive linear relationship (F = 10.54; dF 87; P = 0.002) [Figure 1]. However, there was no correlation between the reduction in frequency of sexual intercourse over the last five years and the amount of alcohol consumed.
In many of these cases, a discussion between the physician, the man with erectile dysfunction, and possibly his partner can help to resolve the issues leading to treatment failure. For men who experience severe side effects, can’t take the drugs for other reasons (such as taking medicines such as nitroglycerin), or don’t respond in spite of further education on the correct use of the drugs, there are other treatment options that can help most men remain sexually active.
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