Having ED means that all, most, or some of the time, the penis fails to become or stay hard enough for sexual intercourse. If, on rare occasions, you cannot get an erection, you do not have ED. You also do not have ED if you have a decrease in sexual desire, have premature ejaculation, or if you fail to ejaculate or reach orgasm. ED means that you can’t get or keep an erection.
Because ED has several causes, sorting out exactly what is causing your problem may take some time. First, make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are using, including over-the-counter or herbal products. Drugs frequently used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and peptic ulcers can all cause ED. But don’t stop taking any of your medications without first talking to your doctor.
The initial event for normal erectile function is sexual stimulation. Subsequent to processing in the central nervous system neural impulses are conveyed along the spinal cord, exiting through the pelvic parasympathetic preganglionic nerves. These pelvic nerves form the pelvic plexus and send their message through first messenger, acetyl choline, to the cavernosal nerves. The cavernosal nerves enter erectile bodies (corpora cavernosa) (Figure 1). Here, their nerve endings release a second messenger, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide activates the enzyme guanylyl cyclase, which lyses guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to produce a third messenger, the intracellular cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). Ultimately, the result is a decrease of intracellular calcium and an opening of potassium channels with the resultant relaxation of vascular smooth muscle in the arteries, aterioles, and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa. The sinusoids open and rapidly fill with blood. Finally, the distended sinusoids compress their drainage pathways (venules) against the fibroelastic covering of the cavernosal bodies (tunica albuginea) and trap the blood in cavernosal bodies. The combination of an increased inflow of blood into the penis and coincident markedly diminished outflow results in rapidly increasing intracavernosal pressure that ultimately approximates systolic pressure. At this pressure the penis has sufficient axial rigidity to permit vaginal penetration.
The medicine causes blood vessels to expand, increasing blood flow in the body and to the penis, thus helping patients to get an erection. Invasive surgeries that involve rods and balloons are also available to patients suffering from ED. While these treatments often come with potential side effects, discomfort and a financial burden, some ED patients may see success with them.
Currently, the preferred treatment for erectile dysfunction includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). However, numerous experts have raised concerns about the use of these drugs in patients with chronic heart failure who also take nitrates (or other medications that relax and widen blood vessels). This drug combination has been shown to be dangerous, because it can increase the risk for a life-threatening drop in blood pressure.
If your physician advises you that the risks of taking an erectile dysfunction medication are too high, he or she can advise you of other treatment options that can enable you to resume sexual activity without risks of complications. These might also include screening to try to determine if your erectile dysfunction has a physiological basis in need of medical intervention, can be corrected through lifestyle changes or if it may have psychological roots. After all, a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease can lead to depression, which can also affect libido. Talk with your doctor to establish a safe, effective plan for resuming intimacy after your heart disease diagnosis.
Relative risk and 95% confidence interval for erectile dysfunction and clinical events. Relative risk and 95% confidence interval for erectile dysfunction and total cardiovascular events (A), cardiovascular mortality (B), myocardial infarction (C), cerebrovascular events (D), and all-cause mortality (E). Studies are listed alphabetically. Boxes represent the relative risk and lines represent the 95% confidence interval for individual studies. The diamonds and their width represent the pooled relative risks and the 95% confidence interval, respectively. CVD, cardiovascular disease; DM, diabetes mellitus; HF, heart failure; GEN, general population. Numbers in brackets are the number of references in the text—and references with S are from Supplementary material online. With permission from Vlachopoulos et al.5
"Just because there is evidence doesn't mean it's good evidence," says Andrew McCullough, MD, associate professor of clinical urology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, and one of the original clinical investigators for the ED drug Viagra (sildenafil). "And before men with ED start down the naturopathic route, it's smart to make sure that there isn't some underlying medical condition that needs to be corrected." Moreover, it is estimated that 30 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and 70% of cases are a result of a potentially deadly condition like atherosclerosis, kidney disease, vascular disease, neurological disease, or diabetes. Additionally, ED can also be caused by certain medications, surgical injury, and psychological problems.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (539) | Google ScholarSee all References The MMAS 9-year follow-up study has shown that a body mass index of 28 kg/m2 or higher was an independent predictor for ED, with an adjusted odds ratio of 1.96.5x5Feldman, HA, Johannes, CB, Derby, CA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. Prev Med. 2000; 30: 328–338


Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Men who have Diabetes are three times more likely to have Erectile Dysfunction than men who do not have Diabetes. Among men with ED, those with Diabetes are likely to have experienced the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without Diabetes. A recent study of a clinic population revealed that 5% of the men with ED also had undiagnosed Diabetes. The risk of ED increases with the number of years you have Diabetes and the severity of your Diabetes. Even though 20% to 75% of men with Diabetes have ED, it can be successfully managed in almost all men.


The study, which retrospectively tracked more than 43,000 men for an average of 3.3 years, found that men prescribed phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—the type of erectile dysfunction drug sold under the names Viagra, Levitra, Cialis and others—after their first heart attack were 38 percent less likely to die from any cause. No survival benefit was seen among men taking alprostadil, another type of erectile dysfunction drug that works through a different mechanism.
If your physician advises you that the risks of taking an erectile dysfunction medication are too high, he or she can advise you of other treatment options that can enable you to resume sexual activity without risks of complications. These might also include screening to try to determine if your erectile dysfunction has a physiological basis in need of medical intervention, can be corrected through lifestyle changes or if it may have psychological roots. After all, a heart attack or diagnosis of heart disease can lead to depression, which can also affect libido. Talk with your doctor to establish a safe, effective plan for resuming intimacy after your heart disease diagnosis.

• Medications: About 25 percent of ED cases are caused by drugs. Many medications, including common medicines prescribed for diabetes and its complications, can cause ED. The most common offenders are blood pressure drugs, antihistamines, antidepressants, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, and cimetidine (an ulcer drug). In addition, over-the-counter medications, including certain eye drops and nose drops, have been associated with ED. That does not mean you should stop taking these medications! Rather, you should discuss them with your doctor to determine whether a different dosage, an alternate medicine, or additional treatments will resolve the ED.

Crossref | PubMed | Scopus (171) | Google ScholarSee all References Incidence increased notably with age in this patient cohort: only 1.1% of diabetic men aged 21 to 30 years had ED compared with 47.1% of all diabetic patients older than 43 years. Diabetic patients often have other cardiovascular risk factors that may play a role in the development of ED. However, in an analysis of the PBI in 441 patients with ED and various cardiovascular risk factors (diabetes mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, tobacco use), diabetes was the only risk factor that was significantly and independently associated with a decrease in the PBI.7x7Virag, R, Bouilly, P, and Frydman, D. Is impotence an arterial disorder? a study of arterial risk factors in 440 impotent men. Lancet. 1985; 1: 181–184
Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
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