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.
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It appears that testosterone has NOS-independent pathways as well. In one study, castrated rats were implanted with testosterone pellets and then divided into a group that received an NOS inhibitor (L-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester [L-NAME]) and a control group that received no enzyme. [24] The castrated rats that were given testosterone pellets and L-NAME still had partial erections, a result suggesting the presence of a pathway independent of NOS activity.
Conditions that may be associated with ED include diabetes, [25, 26, 27] hypertension, [28] , and CAD, as well as neurologic disorders, endocrinopathies, benign prostatic hyperplasia, [29] , sleep apnea [30] , COPD, [31] and depression (see Table 1 below). [32, 33, 34, 35] In fact, almost any disease may affect erectile function by altering the nervous, vascular, or hormonal systems. Various diseases may produce changes in the smooth muscle tissue of the corpora cavernosa or influence the patient’s psychological mood and behavior.

The physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.


Effective treatment for erectile dysfunction is available, and for most men will allow the return to a fulfilling sex life. The side effects of the treatment for erectile dysfunction vary depending on the treatment that is used. Some may interrupt the spontaneity of sexual activity. For example, PDE-5 inhibitors typically need to be taken one hour before sex. Side effects may include headaches, indigestion, vasodilation, diarrhoea and blue tinge to vision. Other treatments such as penile injections may cause pain at the injection site, or an erection that will not go down. Treatment options need to be carefully discussed with your doctor to determine which one is best suited to you.


Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
Associated morbidity may include various other male sexual dysfunctions, such as premature (early) ejaculation and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The NHSLS found that 28.5% of men aged 18-59 years reported premature ejaculation, and 15.8% lacked sexual interest during the past year. An additional 17% reported anxiety about sexual performance, and 8.1% had a lack of pleasure in sex. [51]
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Erectile dysfunction - (ED) or impotence is sexual dysfunction characterized by the inability to develop or maintain an erection of the penis during sexual activity. A penile erection is the hydraulic effect of blood entering and being retained in sponge-like bodies within the penis. The process is most often initiated as a result of sexual arousal, when signals are transmitted from the brain to nerves in the penis.

The PDE5 inhibitors sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) are prescription drugs which are taken orally.[22]:20–21 Additionally, a cream combining alprostadil with the permeation enhancer DDAIP has been approved in Canada as a first line treatment for erectile dysfunction.[25] Penile injections, on the other hand, can involve one of the following medications: papaverine, phentolamine, and prostaglandin E1, also known as alprostadil.[22]:25
ED is a common occurrence after SCI, occurring in up to 80% of men, and results from disruption of the nerve pathways essential for erection (24,25). Different degrees of ED may occur depending on the spinal cord level of injury (LOI), extent of lesion and timing from injury. Reflexogenic erections can occur with lesions above L3 or L4 when the erectile spinal reflex arc remains intact. Psychogenic erections can occur with low lesions in the sacral and lumbar spinal cord but may not occur in complete lesions above T9 that can damage sympathetic outflow. Additionally, reflexogenic erections are not likely to occur in the spinal shock period that occurs after the initial cord trauma. Conversely, their occurrence may signal that the period of shock is over (26). Typically SCI affects younger men in their “sexual prime” and ED is associated with decreased quality of life (27).
Alprostadil (also known as prostaglandin E1 [PGE1]) is the prominent known smooth-muscle dilator of the corpus cavernosum. Its mechanism of action is believed to be the promotion of intracellular accumulation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, thereby causing decreased intracellular accumulation of calcium and resulting smooth muscle relaxation. Alprostadil can be delivered to the erectile tissue either via an intraurethral suppository that is massaged and then absorbed across the corpus spongiosum of the urethra to the corpora cavernosa, or directly injected into the corpora cavernosa. When administered urethrally, doses are substantially higher than when directly injected (typical dosing is 500 mcg to 1 mg intraurethral compared with 2.5 mcg to 20 mcg intracavernosal).
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.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
Side effects include lightheadedness, fainting, priapism, urethral bleeding (intraurethral), dyspareunia in the partner (intraurethral), hematoma (intracavernosal) or penile curvature secondary to scar (intracavernosal). Efficacy of intraurethral alprostadil has been demonstrated to be around 50% ("able to have intercourse") in randomized controlled trials.31,32 For intracorporeal injection, typically alprostadil is tried alone, or compounded with papaverine (nonspecific phosphodiesterase inhibitor that increases intracellular cyclic adenosine monophosphate and cGMP) and/or phentolamine (competitive, non-selective alpha1- and alpha2-adrenoreceptor blocker). Pinsky et al33 reported an extensive review of the benefits and drawbacks of the combinations of these drugs.
Implantation of penile prosthesis remains an important option for men with ED if medical treatment fails or is inappropriate. Prostheses are available as a saline-filled silicone device or a malleable device. The benefit of the former is a more natural appearance in the deflated state, closely approximating the appearance of a flaccid penis. The trade-off is a higher mechanical failure rate and higher cost. Satisfaction rates for patients who underwent penile prosthesis surgery have been reported to be near 90%.36 However, in the majority of patients who receive this treatment, less invasive alternatives have failed and therefore satisfaction with this treatment would be expected to be higher in this subset of patients. Risks of these devices include surgical and anesthetic risk, device infection, and device malfunction. Mechanical failure rates depend on the specific device being investigated. Overall, the percentage of devices that are free from mechanical failure at 5 years ranges from 84% to 94%.19 Infection rates in the era of coated devices and improved techniques are reported to be less than 1%.37

The surgery for placement of a penile prosthesis is typically an outpatient surgery. Doctors often perform a penile prosthesis through a single incision, and all of the components are hidden under the skin. Health care professionals often give patients antibiotics at the time of surgery and often after the surgery to decrease the risk of developing an infection. Depending on your health history, a health care provider may leave a catheter in your penis to drain your bladder overnight.
Alprostadil, a drug also discussed in Penile Injection Therapy, has been formulated into a small suppository. This applicator is inserted into the urethra (the canal through which urine and semen are excreted), and with compression of the applicator, the small suppository is released into the urethra. With massage/rubbing of the penis, the suppository dissolves in the urethra and the medication is absorbed into the penis where it acts to increase blood flow into the penis. One cannot use any form of lubricant (for example, K-Y jelly, Vaseline, etc) to help with the insertion of the suppository. Urinating prior to inserting the applicator will help moisten/lubricate the urethra.
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
Penis pumps produce erections by drawing blood, via air suction, into the penis. The devices consist of a cylindrical tube, 12 to 18 inches long, connected by a small air hose to a hand pump (on many models this resembles the squeeze mechanism on a blood pressure monitor). Users place the tube over the penis then pump to produce an erection. They must then place an elastic band around the base of the penis to keep the blood there and maintain the erection.  
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."
Taking one of these tablets will not automatically produce an erection. Sexual stimulation is needed first to cause the release of nitric oxide from your penile nerves. These medications amplify that signal, allowing some men to function normally. Oral erectile dysfunction medications are not aphrodisiacs, will not cause excitement and are not needed in men who get normal erections.
Penile Injection Medication: This is just what it sounds like. Injected at home directly into the penis, the medication alprostadil produces erection by relaxing certain muscles, increasing blood flow into the penis and restricting outflow. Although some sources report an 80 percent success rate, the therapy has disadvantages, such as risks of infection, pain, and scarring—fibrosis—in the penis, and it may also cause priapism. A popular version of this medication is Upjohn Corporation’s Caverject. The MUSE System, by VIVUS, involves the same medicine (a pellet of alprostadil) applied with an eye-dropper-like applicator, directly into the urethra.
In patients who either fail to respond to first or second-line therapy, or are not interested in the conservative therapies, penile prosthesis implantation is available. Malleable and rigid implants were available for many years, but in 1973 the world of penile prosthetics took a giant leap forward with the advent of the inflatable penile implant. Most implants done nowadays are of the inflatable variety. Adverse events including malfunction and infection are rare, and patient satisfaction is very high.45
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.
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