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.
What’s important to take away from this is that, because erections can occur throughout the day for no reason, erectile dysfunction can be difficult to diagnose. Some men achieve erections for no reason, yet when provided with stimuli, they aren’t able to. Some men, on the other hand, only get aroused when directly stimulated. This means that healthcare professionals need to take into account many variables prior to diagnosing and treating erectile dysfunction.
By contrast, psychogenic impotence typically is abrupt in onset, often in relation to psychological trauma, and may wax and wane. Patients with psychogenic impotence may have total erectile failure with one partner but not another, or be impotent during sexual intercourse but not during self-stimulation. Normally occurring spontaneous erections in the morning suggest psychogenic rather than organic causes for impotence.

Men are very susceptible to visual stimulation, particularly as children and teenagers. Seeing anything appealing (say, a person or image) activates pathways in the brain that tell nerves in your lower spinal cord to trigger a release of nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessel walls and floods your penis with blood, making it hard. Nitric oxide is the key chemical here, as you need a mix released from your nerves AND from your blood vessels to get an erection. If the blood vessels, nerves, or both are damaged, it's difficult to get a hard erection. That's why your doctor may well be interested if you're struggling with erections, as it could be a sign of early heart disease or diabetes.
Alprostadil self-injection. With this method, you use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (Caverject Impulse, Edex) into the base or side of your penis. In some cases, medications generally used for other conditions are used for penile injections on their own or in combination. Examples include papaverine, alprostadil and phentolamine. Often these combination medications are known as bimix (if two medications are included) or trimix (if three are included).
Diabetes is one of the most common causes of ED. Chronically high blood sugar levels can result in nerve damage that affects your body’s ability to translate pleasurable sexual stimulation into an erection. Diabetes can also lead to issues with circulation, which reduces blood flow to the penis and makes it more difficult to keep an erection that is hard enough for intercourse.

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.
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It is normal for a man to have five to six erections during sleep, especially during rapid eye movement (REM). Their absence may indicate a problem with nerve function or blood supply in the penis. There are two methods for measuring changes in penile rigidity and circumference during nocturnal erection: snap gauge and strain gauge. A significant proportion of men who have no sexual dysfunction nonetheless do not have regular nocturnal erections.
ED can be caused by either physical and/or psychological factors like stress, anxiety, or depression. Importantly, ED can be the first sign of heart or other health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. We offer the optional order of a lab test to investigate whether you might have more serious underlying health problems. Our doctors can order investigative labs in all the states we operate in apart from AZ, NY, NJ and RI. You’ll need to go to a Quest Diagnostics center to have these tests done. When we get the test results back, we can help you understand what they mean.
Elise joined Lemonaid because she believes healthcare should be accessible and affordable to everyone! With extensive professional healthcare experience, Elise has spent the last decade as an advocate for the highest quality patient care in specialties like gynecology, internal medicine, and otolaryngology and has excelled in various roles such as office manager, surgery coordinator, and front office coordinator. She feels every patient should be treated with kindness and understanding, and she brings this attitude to work every day. Aside from her medical background, she’s also a professional musician and enjoys living life to the fullest with a smile on her face.
To a significant degree, the public, particularly older men, is conditioned to accept erectile dysfunction as a condition of progressive aging for which little can be done. In addition, there is considerable inaccurate public information regarding sexual function and dysfunction. Often, this is in the form of advertisements in which enticing promises are made, and patients then become even more demoralized when promised benefits fail to materialize. Accurate information on sexual function and the management of dysfunction must be provided to affected men and their partners. They also must be encouraged to seek professional help, and providers must be aware of the embarrassment and/or discouragement that may often be reasons why men with erectile dysfunction avoid seeking appropriate treatment.

Alprostadil may also be administered into the urethral opening of the penis. In MUSE (medical urethral system for erection), the man inserts a thin tube the width of a vermicelli noodle into his urethral opening and presses down on a plunger to deliver a tiny pellet containing alprostadil into his penis. The drug takes about 10 minutes to work and the erection lasts about an hour. The main side effect is a sensation of pain and burning in the urethra, which can last about five to 15 minutes.
There are many effective treatments for impotence. The most popular is a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors. These include sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra), tadalafil (Cialis) and avanafil (STENDRA). These drugs are taken in pill form. They work in most men. But they are less effective in men with neurological causes of impotence.
Research is mixed on the effectiveness of acupuncture as an erectile dysfunction cure, but one study published in November 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that acupuncture can be beneficial for men experiencing erectile dysfunction as a side effect of antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs).
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).
If you just got off solo, you might have to wait before you can hop into bed with your partner, says Dr. Brahmbhatt. It might have something to do with a spike in the hormone prolactin after you orgasm, according to a study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research. This hormone has been linked to difficulties maintaining an erection or even ejaculating.
3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.
However, in contrast, a recent systematic review of published studies, the authors concluded that overall, the addition of testosterone to PDE-5 inhibitors might benefit patients with ED associated with testosterone levels of less than 300 ng/dL (10.4 nmol/L) who failed monotherapy. [20] A limitation of existing studies are their heterogeneous nature and methodological drawbacks.
If you can keep an erection when you’re alone, then you’re probably worried about something when you’re with your partner. Think about how you feel and then talk to your partner about your concerns. You might be putting too much pressure on yourself or not protecting yourself by using condoms and birth control. Or maybe you’ll discover that you’re really not ready for sex right now and need to wait until it feels right.
Just as certain meds can make it difficult for men to have an orgasm, some can keep the flagpole from even getting raised in the first place. Anti-depressant medications like Prozac and Zoloft, anti-anxiety pills like Valium, high blood pressure medicine like Diuril, and even over-the-counter cold medicines like Sudafed and anti-heartburn pills like Zantac can inhibit erections.
The severity of ED has been correlated with the extent of CVD. Banks et al reported that the risk of future CV events increased progressively according to ED severity.28 This was shown in both men with and without known CVD at baseline and after controlling for confounders. Solomon and colleagues found an inverse correlation between international index of erectile function (IIEF) scores and plaque burden seen on coronary angiography.29 In addition, Yaman et al demonstrated a significant correlation between ED severity on IIEF questionnaires and coronary artery calcification.30
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). [6] 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. [7]

Because impotence can be due to health problems that can affect the whole body, and because it can interfere with one’s quality of life, it is important to talk with your doctor if you have trouble attaining or maintaining an erection. With increasing discussion of impotence in the media, coupled with advances in treatment, men are now much more comfortable talking with their doctors about impotence. It is currently estimated that between 15 and 30 million men in the United States are affected by impotence (Source: NIDDK).


Stress is another factor that can be a cause or effect of ED. If you're stressed at work, at home, and in your relationships, it's going to take a toll on your sexual function. Your mind is elsewhere, and relaxing when you finally make it between the sheets is a long shot. Now you’re stressed because you can’t get it up (talk about the ultimate catch-22), so you're stuck in this sad, frustrating cycle. “ED really affects the psyche of a guy, regardless of the etiology, Gittens says. “If you have a problem getting an erection one night, you’re probably going to be anxious and worried your partner might see you as less of a man the next time you try to get an erection.” There's a pill that will help with this, and it's not promoted on television with middle-aged men in sports cars. It's a damn chill pill.
Vardenafil and tadalafil belong to the same group of chemical compounds as sildenafil, namely phos-phodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. Some men cannot benefit from sildenafil or the two newer PDE-5 inhibitors because they have low levels of nitric oxide. British investigators reported in late 2002 that three different types of compounds are being studied as possible medications for men with low levels of nitric oxide. They are Rho-kinase inhibitors, soluble guanylate cyclase activators, and nitric oxide-releasing PDE-5 inhibitors.
In addition, a man affected by lower testosterone may feel less sexually inclined, less interested in viewing sexual material, and less interested in physical activities. To add to this, a man dealing with less testosterone may also become less assertive, more inclined to stay in, and more likely to seek out medical help for his erectile dysfunction.
The first line and by far the most common treatment today is with the prescription drug sildenafil citrate, sold under the brand name Viagra. An estimated 20 million prescriptions for the pill have been filled since it was approved by the FDA in March 1998. It is also the most effective treatment with a success rate of more than 60%. The drug boosts levels of a substance called cyclic GMP, which is responsible for widening the blood vessels of the penis. In clinical studies, Viagra produced headaches in 16% of men who took it, and other side effects included flushing, indigestion, and stuffy nose.
To reach the largest audience, communications strategies should include informative and accurate newspaper and magazine articles, radio and television programs, as well as special educational programs in senior centers. Resources for accurate information regarding diagnosis and treatment options also should include doctors' offices, unions, fraternal and service groups, voluntary health organizations, State and local health departments, and appropriate advocacy groups. Additionally, since sex education courses in schools uniformly address erectile function, the concept of erectile dysfunction can easily be communicated in these forums as well.
Vascular damage may result from radiation therapy to the pelvis and prostate in the treatment of prostate cancer. [36] Both the blood vessels and the nerves to the penis may be affected. Radiation damage to the crura of the penis, which are highly susceptible to radiation damage, can induce ED. Data indicate that 50% of men undergoing radiation therapy lose erectile function within 5 years after completing therapy; fortunately, some respond to one of the PDE5 inhibitors.
Although not indicated for routine use, nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) testing may be useful in the patient who reports a complete absence of erections (exclusive of nocturnal "sleep" erections) or when a primary psychogenic etiology is suspected. Such testing should be performed by those with expertise and knowledge of its interpretation, pitfalls, and usefulness. Various methods and devices are available for the evaluation of nocturnal penile tumescence, but their clinical usefulness is restricted by limitations of diagnostic accuracy and availability of normative data. Further study regarding standardization of NPT testing and its general applicability is indicated.

early 15c., "physical weakness," also "poverty," from Middle French impotence "weakness," from Latin impotentia "lack of control or power," from impotentem (nominative impotens); see impotent. In reference to a want of (male) sexual potency, from c.1500. The figurative senses of the word in Latin were "violence, fury, unbridled passion." Related: Impotency.


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.

While studies are limited, it has been shown that male sexual dysfunction can also negatively impact the sexual function of female partners. A study comparing the sexual function of women with partners with erectile dysfunction to those without showed that sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction, pain and total score were significantly lower in those who had partners with erectile dysfunction. Later in that study, a large proportion of the men with erectile dysfunction underwent treatment. Following treatment, sexual arousal, lubrication, orgasm, satisfaction and pain were all significantly increased. It was concluded that female sexual function is impacted by male erection status, which may improve following treatment of male sexual dysfunction.
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.
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