Despite the accumulation of a substantial body of scientific information about erectile dysfunction, large segments of the public -- as well as the health professions -- remain relatively uninformed, or -- even worse -- misinformed, about much of what is known. This lack of information, added to a pervasive reluctance of physicians to deal candidly with sexual matters, has resulted in patients being denied the benefits of treatment for their sexual concerns. Although they might wish doctors would ask them questions about their sexual lives, patients, for their part, are too often inhibited from initiating such discussions themselves. Improving both public and professional knowledge about erectile dysfunction will serve to remove those barriers and will foster more open communication and more effective treatment of this condition.
Because of the difficulty in defining the clinical entity of erectile dysfunction, there have been a variety of entry criteria for patients in therapeutic trials. Similarly, the ability to assess efficacy of therapeutic interventions is impaired by the lack of clear and quantifiable criteria of erectile dysfunction. General considerations for treatment follow:
Long-term predictions based on an aging population and an increase in risk factors (eg, hypertension, diabetes, vascular disease, pelvic and prostate surgery, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and lower urinary tract symptoms) suggest a large increase in the number of men with ED. In addition, the prevalence of ED is underestimated because physicians frequently do not question their patients about this disorder.
A common and important cause of ED is vasculogenic. Many men with ED have comorbid conditions such as hyperlipidemia, hypercholesterolemia, tobacco abuse, diabetes mellitus, or coronary artery disease (CAD).  The Princeton III Consensus recommends screening men who present with ED for cardiovascular risk factors; ED may be the earliest presentation of atherosclerosis and vascular disease. 
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
The drugs are worth trying, but don’t expect miracles. Everyone has heard of Viagra, but Cialis is actually more popular because it’s effective longer—24 to 36 hours instead of three to five. Erection drugs improve erections in around two-thirds of men. They don’t work for about one-third. When they work, they do not produce porn-star erections. Over time, many men need larger doses. But as dosage increases, side effects become more likely, notably, headache and nasal congestion. Finally, the drugs have no effect on arousal, so men may raise erections but don't feel particularly interested in sex. Many men feel disappointed with the drugs. Fewer than half refill their prescriptions.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
A lot of guys don’t want to admit it, but not being able to get or keep an erection happens more often than you’d think. Guys usually have trouble getting or keeping an erection when they’re nervous, scared or worried about something. They might be worried about how they’ll “perform,” or they could be feeling guilty about having sex. They might be afraid of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or, if they are with a girl, getting their partner pregnant. Drugs (including some anti-depressants) and alcohol can also prevent you from getting and/or maintaining an erection.
In the short term, alcohol relaxes muscles in the penis, letting blood to flow in (which is a good thing). However, alcohol also prevents other blood vessels from closing and trapping all the extra blood. Erections depend on trapping increased blood flow in the erectile tissue of the penis. If you don’t trap that extra blood, you don’t get an erection. In the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver scarring, high blood pressure, and can damage your blood vessels resulting in erectile dysfunction.
The most important organic causes of impotence are cardiovascular disease and diabetes, neurological problems (for example, trauma from prostatectomy surgery), hormonal insufficiencies (hypogonadism) and drug side effects. Psychological impotence is where erection or penetration fails due to thoughts or feelings (psychological reasons) rather than physical impossibility; this is somewhat less frequent but can often be helped. In psychological impotence, there is a strong response to placebo treatment.
To start with, ED is NOT in your head. You can’t simply will yourself to get an erection, no matter how much you try. Studies show over 80% of ED cases are caused by a treatable physical disorder. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common causes. Even a perfectly healthy man can develop ED after a brain or spinal cord injury. ED can be a side effect of certain medications, too. Read more on our Causes of ED page.
Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20
When we say it’s a barometer of men’s health, it’s a signal. It’s an indicator that things may be right or not. And so when a man develops an erectile problem– and we’re talking about something that is occurring over time. It’s not something that just occurred overnight. When it occurs overnight, it’s more often than not a psychogenic, an anxiety reaction.
Instead of the hesitation with which he had accosted the cardinal a quarter of an hour before, there might be read in the eyes of the young king that will against which a struggle might be maintained, and which might be crushed by its own impotence, but which, at least, would preserve, like a wound in the depth of the heart, the remembrance of its defeat.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.