What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, also referred to as ED, is the inability for a man to sustain an erection to have sex.

Many men occasionally suffer from erectile dysfunction, but it should not become a concern until it occurs on a consistent basis. If your erectile dysfunction is an ongoing issue, it could be a symptom of an underlying health condition that needs treatment.

Causes of erectile dysfunction

Causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Deficient blood flow to the penis
  • Taking certain medications, such as antidepressants, muscle relaxants and high blood pressure drugs
  • Undergoing treatments for prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate
  • Being overly tired
  • Stress, depression or anxiety
  • Smoking

Medical conditions that could cause erectile dysfunction include:

  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Sleep diseases

Risk factors of erectile dysfunction

A man’s sexual function changes as he ages — it may take longer to develop an erection and the erection may be softer. Risk factors that can increase your likelihood of developing erectile dysfunction include:

  • Having medical conditions such as heart disease or diabetes
  • Being a smoker
  • Being obese
  • Undergoing medical treatments on the prostate such as radiation treatment or prostate surgery
  • Taking medications such as antidepressants
  • Being depressed or stressed

Symptoms of erectile dysfunction

Signs or symptoms of erectile dysfunction may include:

  • Inability to get or maintain an erection
  • Reduced interest in sex

Diagnosis of erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction can be diagnosed with a medical and physical examination. During the physical exam, your doctor will examine your penis, testicles and evaluate the sensitivity of the nerves in these organs.

Your doctor may order tests if he or she suspects an underlying medical condition is causing your condition.

Tests that can help diagnose the cause of your condition include:

  • Blood test — can help determine if you have medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or low testosterone.
  • Urinalysis — can help confirm if you have conditions such as diabetes.
  • Ultrasound — can diagnose any blood flow issues in the penis.
  • Psychological exam — if your doctor suspects psychological issues are causing your erectile dysfunction, he or she may order tests to screen for depression or anxiety.

Treatments for erectile dysfunction

For some men, the condition can be treated with medications. Others may need to make lifestyle changes such as losing weight or quitting smoking. Your Mercy Health doctor will evaluate your case and work with you determine the best treatment option for you.

Treatment options may include:

Oral medications

There are a variety of oral medications used to treat erectile dysfunction — Viagra, Cialis, Adcirca, Levitra, Staxyn and Stedra. These medications work by improving the effects of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide is a chemical that that helps relax muscles in the penis. As the penis is relaxed, blood flow increases, and men can produce an erection through sexual stimulation.

It is important to let your doctor know all the medications you are on before taking an ED medication. Some ED medications are contraindicated in people who take nitrate medications, have heart disease or those who have low blood pressure.

Medications given via injections and suppositories

Patients who do not experience relief from or are not candidates for oral medications may be prescribed another medication called alprostadil that can be given via an injection or suppository. The injection will be given in the side of the penis, while the suppository is inserted into the penis.

Penis pump

A penis pump may be an option for patients who do not respond to medications or lifestyle changes. The pump works by pulling blood into your penis so that it can stay firm for sex. Once your penis is hard, you place a band around the base of the penis to keep the blood in the penis during intercourse.

Penis implants

A penile implant uses implants that are surgically placed into the penis to enable you to control when and how long you have an erection. A penile erection is an option for patients who have failed other treatment options.

Find an erectile dysfunction specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you