Erectile dysfunction; Impotence; Sexual dysfunction - male
An erection problem occurs when a man cannot get or keep an erection that is firm enough for intercourse. You may not be able to get an erection at all. Or, you may lose the erection during intercourse before you are ready. Erection problems do not usually affect your sex drive.
Erection problems are common. Almost all adult men have trouble getting or keeping an erection at one time or another. Often the problem goes away with little or no treatment. But for some men, it can be an ongoing problem. This is called erectile dysfunction (ED).
If you have trouble getting or keeping an erection more than 25% of the time, you should see your health care provider.
Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Facts
Erection problems are common in adult men.
Which physical problem could cause ED?
If you have an erection in the morning, it can mean there is no physical cause for ED.
What else can lead to ED?
Which of the following habits may make ED worse?
Which type of medicine could cause ED?
Which healthy habits may improve ED?
Prescription pills for ED will work only when you are sexually aroused.
You should NOT take ED pills if you also take nitrates for heart disease.
Testosterone therapy can improve erections in some men.
When medicine doesn't work, other treatments for ED include:
Low testosterone levels. This can make it difficult to get an erection. It can also reduce a man's sex drive.
Nerve damage from prostate surgery.
Nicotine, alcohol, or cocaine use.
Spinal cord injury.
In some cases, your emotions or relationship problems can lead to ED, such as:
Poor communication with your partner.
Feelings of doubt and failure.
Stress, fear, anxiety, or anger.
Expecting too much from sex. This can make sex a task instead of a pleasure.
Erection problems can affect men at any age, but are more common as you get older. Physical causes are more common in older men. Emotional causes are more common in younger men.
If you have erections in the morning or at night while you sleep, it is likely not a physical cause. Most men have 3 to 5 erections at night that last about 30 minutes. Talk with your provider about how to find out if you have normal nighttime erections.
The treatment may depend on what is causing the problem and how healthy you are. Your provider can talk with you about the best treatment for you.
For many men, lifestyle changes can help. These include:
Eating a healthy diet
Losing extra weight
If you and your partner have trouble talking about your relationship, it may cause problems with sex. Counseling can help both you and your partner.
Lifestyle changes alone may not be enough. There are many treatment options.
Pills you take by mouth, such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), and tadalafil (Cialis). They work only when you are sexually aroused. They usually start to work in 15 to 45 minutes.
Medicine inserted into the urethra or injected into the penis to improve blood flow. Very small needles are used and do not cause pain.
Surgery to place implants in the penis. The implants may be inflatable or semi-rigid.
A vacuum device. This is used to pull blood into the penis. A special rubber band is then used to keep the erection during intercourse.
Testosterone replacement if your testosterone level is low. This comes in skin patches, gel, or injections into the muscle.
ED pills you take by mouth (Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis) can have side effects. These can range from muscle pain and flushing to heart attack. DO NOT use these drugs with nitroglycerin. The combination can cause your blood pressure to drop.
You may not be able to use these drugs if you have any of the following conditions:
Recent stroke or heart attack
Severe heart disease, such as unstable angina or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
Severe heart failure
Uncontrolled high blood pressure
Very low blood pressure
Other treatments also have possible side effects and complications. Ask your provider to explain the risks and benefits of each treatment.
You may see many herbs and supplements that claim to help sexual performance or desire. However, none have been proven to successfully treat ED. Plus, they may not always be safe. DO NOT take anything without talking with your provider first.
Many men overcome erection problems with lifestyle changes, treatment, or both. For more severe cases, you and your partner may have to adjust to how ED affects your sex life. Even with treatment, counseling can help you and your partner overcome the stress ED may put on your relationship.
An erection problem that does not go away can make you feel bad about yourself. It can also harm your relationship with your partner. ED may be a sign of health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. So if you have an erection problem, do not wait to seek help.
The problem does not go away with lifestyle changes
The problem begins after an injury or prostate surgery
You have other symptoms, such as low back pain, abdominal pain, or a change in urination
If you think any medicine you are taking may be causing erection problems, talk with your provider. You may need to lower the dose or change to another drug. DO NOT change or stop taking any medicine without first talking to your provider.
Talk to your provider if your erection problems have to do with a fear of heart problems. Sexual intercourse is usually safe for men with heart problems.
Call your provider right away or go to an emergency room if you are taking ED medicine and it gives you an erection that lasts for more than 4 hours.
Burnett AL. Evaluation and management of erectile dysfunction. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 27.
Swerdloff RS, Wang C. The testis and male hypogonadism, infertility, and sexual dysfunction. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 234.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.