Circulatory problems: An erection occurs when the penis fills with blood and a valve at the base of the penis traps it. Diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, clots, and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can all interfere with this process. Such circulatory problems are the number one cause of erectile dysfunction. Frequently, erectile dysfunction is the first noticeable symptom of cardiovascular disease.

Relationship problems can make it difficult for you to get or stay hard when you’re attempting to have sex with the person you’re in a relationship with. However, if you have this problem and you’re in a relationship that doesn’t mean your relationship is necessarily the reason. There are lots of other reasons you might not be able to get or stay hard (see above).
There are also alternative treatments, such as using a penis pump or a penile injection. Penis pumps work by creating a vacuum and thereby causing more blood to flow to your penis. Penile injections need to be used shortly before intercourse. They contain a medication which widens your blood vessels. A doctor’s prescription is needed for the injections.

Stanley A Brosman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association for Cancer Research, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, American Urological Association, Society for Basic Urologic Research, Society of Surgical Oncology, Society of Urologic Oncology, Western Section of the American Urological Association, Association of Clinical Research Professionals, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Society of Urology, International Society of Urological Pathology

*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.

Although erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, it is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Knowledge of the risk factors can guide prevention strategies. Specific antihypertensive, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs can be chosen to lessen the risk of erectile failure. Published lists of prescription drugs that may impair erectile functioning often are based on reports implicating a drug without systematic study. Such studies are needed to confirm the validity of these suggested associations. In the individual patient, the physician can modify the regimen in an effort to resolve the erectile problem.


While erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, the risk of developing erectile dysfunction increases with age. According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, the prevalence of erectile dysfunction was 52% in men 40-70 years of age. The prevalence of complete erectile dysfunction increases from 5% at 40 years of age to 15% among men 70 years of age and older.

Erectile dysfunction is clearly a symptom of many conditions, and certain risk factors have been identified, some of which may be amenable to prevention strategies. Diabetes mellitus, hypogonadism in association with a number of endocrinologic conditions, hypertension, vascular disease, high levels of blood cholesterol, low levels of high density lipoprotein, drugs, neurogenic disorders, Peyronie's disease, priapism, depression, alcohol ingestion, lack of sexual knowledge, poor sexual techniques, inadequate interpersonal relationships or their deterioration, and many chronic diseases, especially renal failure and dialysis, have been demonstrated as risk factors. Vascular surgery is also often a risk factor. Age appears to be a strong indirect risk factor in that it is associated with an increased likelihood of direct risk factors. Other factors require more extensive study. Smoking has an adverse effect on erectile function by accentuating the effects of other risk factors such as vascular disease or hypertension. To date, vasectomy has not been associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction other than causing an occasional psychological reaction that could then have a psychogenic influence. Accurate risk factor identification and characterization are essential for concerted efforts at prevention of erectile dysfunction.
The risk of impotence increases with age. It is four-fold higher in men in their 60s compared with those in their 40s according to a study published in the Journal of Urology (2000;163:460-463). Men with less education are also more likely to experience impotence, perhaps because they tend to have less healthy lifestyles, eat a less healthy diet, drink more and exercise less. Physical exercise tends to lessen the risk of impotence.
The U.S. FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has a list of 29 OTC products that claim to treat erectile dysfunction. Patients should avoid these because many contain harmful ingredients. Other natural or herbal remedies such as DHEA, L-arginine, ginseng, and yohimbe are supplements that have been used but have not been proven safe and effective according to some researchers. Before using such compounds, individuals should consult their doctor. According to some experts, acupuncture does not effectively treat erectile dysfunction. Other home remedies for reducing ED symptoms include diet changes such as eating blueberries and citrus fruits and drinking red wine.
Fortunately, impotence is usually treatable. A thorough evaluation starting with a history and physical exam is needed to help diagnose the underlying cause. Once the cause of impotence is determined, treatment can be tailored to target that cause and any other contributing factors. Treatments used for impotence may include medications, vacuum devices, surgery, and psychotherapy.
Stiffy Solution: Luckily, alcohol-induced impotence (also known by the infinitely less classy alias "whiskey d*ck") is a totally temporary condition, one that should clear up as soon as your dude can once again walk a straight line and recite the alphabet backwards. If your dude has consistent erectile problems from consistently drinking too much, however, he should consider cutting down on the sauce, and possibly talking with a doctor.
Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsViagraTake between 30 and 60 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before sex; works for about 4 hoursRecommended dose for most men is 50mgs; after that, dosage may go to as high as 100mg, or as low as 25mg, which may be prescribed for men over 65.Quickly absorbed by the body, less effective after a high-fat meal, and best taken on an empty stomach.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsLevitraTake 1 hour before sex; works for 4 to 5 hours, and may be slightly more effective than ViagraStarting dose for most men is 10mgs a day, but men over 65 often start on the 5mg pill.Can be taken with or without food, although slightly less effective after a high-fat meal.  Avoid anything containing grapefruit juice; it may make side effects worse.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsCialisComes in two forms. The daily pill stays effective in between doses, but may take 4 to 5 days before it begins working. The “weekender” version of Cialis can start working in as little as 30 minutes for men who take the highest dose of the drug (20mgs); it stays effective in the body for up for 36 hours.Daily pill comes in both a 2.5mg and 5mg tablet; most men start with the lower dose. The use-as-needed, “weekender” pill comes in 5, 10 and 20mg strengths; recommended starting dose is 10mg,Can be taken with or without food.   Avoid heavy drinking (5 glasses of wine or 5 shots of whiskey); when combined with Cialis, it can lead to headaches, dizziness, an increase in heart rate, and a drop in blood pressure.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsStaxyn Take 1 hour before sex, although many men report erections in 20 to 30 minutes.  Because Staxyn comes in a sleek black package and is taken as a rapidly dissolving tablet (without water), some men think of it as a more discrete way to treat ED.Comes in 10mg tablets; do not take more than 1 a day.Avoid taking it with any kind of liquid. Should be placed directly on the tongue and allowed to dissolve without chewing.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsStendraPrescribing information now recommends taking it 30 minutes before sex. Some men, however, report results in as little as 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the dose. Because of these findings, Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, the Chesterbrook, Pa., company that has U.S. marketing rights to the drug, has asked the FDA to revise the prescribing information.Starting dose is 100mgs for most men, but the 50mg tablet is recommended for men taking alpha-blocker drugs, like those used for high blood pressure and prostate problems.May be taken with or without food, and with a moderate amount of alcohol (3 drinks).   Drinking more than that can increase the chances of side effects like rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness and headaches.Name of DrugWhen to TakeDoseDietary RestrictionsPenile injections & the MUSE suppositoryTake 5 to 10 minutes before planning to have sex; erections last for 30 to 60 minutes.MUSE comes in 4 dosage strengths; most men start at 125mgs. Avoid taking more than twice within a 24-hour period.N/A
This drug is taken in tablet form one hour before sexual activity to help men treat erection problems. It then remains active for three to four hours. Viagra won't work without sexual stimulation. It's not an aphrodisiac and doesn't increase sexual desire. The problem is that it doesn't provide immediate effect - and sometimes you may need an instant erection!
Psychological causes include depression, stress and anxiety. Men sometimes worry about getting a new sexual partner pregnant so do make sure you mention contraception. If the relationship is relatively new your partner might be nervous about ‘performing’. If they don’t manage to get an erection, this can add to the tension and pressure the next time and further compound the issue.

Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.
×