Erectile dysfunction (impotence) occurs when a man can no longer get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. Having erection trouble from time to time isn't necessarily a cause for concern. But if erectile dysfunction is an ongoing problem, it may cause stress, cause relationship problems or affect your self-confidence.
Even though it may seem awkward to talk with your doctor about erectile dysfunction, go in for an evaluation. Problems getting or keeping an erection can be a sign of a health condition that needs treatment, such as heart disease or poorly controlled diabetes. Treating an underlying problem may be enough to reverse your erectile dysfunction.
If treating an underlying condition doesn't help your erectile dysfunction, medications or other direct treatments may work.
The penis contains two cylindrical, sponge-like structures (corpus cavernosum). When a male becomes sexually aroused, nerve impulses increase blood flow to both cylinders. This sudden influx of blood ...
Erectile dysfunction symptoms may include persistent:
When to see a doctor
Male sexual arousal is a complex process that involves the brain, hormones, emotions, nerves, muscles and blood vessels. Erectile dysfunction can result from a problem with any of these. Likewise, stress and mental health problems can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. Sometimes a combination of physical and psychological issues causes erectile dysfunction. For instance, a minor physical problem that slows your sexual response may cause anxiety about maintaining an erection. The resulting anxiety can lead to or worsen erectile dysfunction.
Physical causes of erectile dysfunction
Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction
As you get older, erections may take longer to develop and may not be as firm. You may need more direct touch to your penis to get and keep an erection. This isn't a direct consequence of getting older. Usually it's a result of underlying health problems or taking medications, which is more common as men age.
A variety of risk factors can contribute to erectile dysfunction. They include:
Complications resulting from erectile dysfunction can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. Depending on your particular health concerns, you may go directly to a specialist — such as a doctor who specializes in male genital problems (urologist) or a doctor who specializes in the hormonal systems (endocrinologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited. Prepare a list of questions to get the most out of your appointment. For erectile dysfunction, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask additional questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
For many men, a physical exam and answering questions (medical history) are all that's needed before a doctor is ready to recommend a treatment. If your doctor suspects that underlying problems may be involved, or you have chronic health problems, you may need further tests or you may need to see a specialist.
Tests for underlying problems may include:
Treatments and drugs
The first thing your doctor will do is to make sure you're getting the right treatment for any health problems that could be causing or worsening your erectile dysfunction.
A variety of options exist for treating erectile dysfunction. The cause and severity of your condition, and underlying health problems, are important factors in your doctor's recommending the best treatment or treatments for you. Your doctor can explain the risks and benefits of each treatment and will consider your preferences. Your partner's preferences also may play a role in treatment choices.
All three medications work in much the same way. These drugs enhance the effects of nitric oxide, a natural chemical your body produces that relaxes muscles in the penis. This increases blood flow and allows you to get an erection in response to sexual stimulation. These medications vary in dosage, how long they work and their side effects. Your doctor will take into account your particular situation to determine which medication may work best.
Possible side effects include flushing, nasal congestion, headache, visual changes and stomach upset.
These medications may not fix your erectile dysfunction immediately. You may need to work with your doctor to find the right medication and dose for you.
Before taking any prescription erectile dysfunction medication (including over-the-counter supplements or herbal remedies), get your doctor's OK. Although these medications can help many people, not all men should take them to treat erectile dysfunction. These medications may not work or may be dangerous for you if you:
Penis pumps, surgery and implants
Battery-powered penis pump for erectile dysfunction
A penis pump is used to draw blood into the penis to create an erection. You then place a rubber ring around the base of the penis to maintain the erection. ...
Lifestyle and home remedies
For many men, erectile dysfunction is caused or worsened by lifestyle choices. Here are some things you can do that may help:
Several alternative treatments are used to treat erectile dysfunction, but more studies are needed to see whether they are safe or effective. Alternative treatments used for erectile dysfunction include:
While some of these supplements appear to be relatively safe, others are more risky and can interact with medications or cause other problems. Before using any supplement, OK it with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you — especially if you have chronic health problems.
Coping and support
Whether the cause is physical, psychological or a combination of both, erectile dysfunction can become a source of mental and emotional stress for you and your partner. Here are some things you can do:
The best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to make healthy lifestyle choices and to manage any existing health problems you have. Here are some things you can do:
Last Updated: 2012-02-10
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