It’s not easy to talk about erectile dysfunction (ED), but ED is more common than you think. In the United States alone, ED affects approximately 30 million men.6 Look around you. There’s a good chance that the guy sitting next to you might have ED, or that the woman across the room is wondering how to help her partner find answers.
What Is ED?
Erectile dysfunction is when a man either can’t have an erection or can’t keep an erection long enough to have sex. For only 20% of men with ED, the cause is due to a psychological problem or disorder.2 When the cause of your ED is due to a physical condition, your ED is not a reflection on you or your sexual partner, since lack of arousal isn’t the problem.
Conditions that Can Cause ED
ED can be caused by one of several medical conditions that reduce blood flow and nerve functioning. If a medical problem is causing your ED, it means there are treatment options.
Diabetes can cause nerve, blood vessel, and muscle damage that results in problems like pain, numbing or loss of sensation in the hands and feet.12 These issues can also result in ED problems, because nerve signals and blood flow are necessary to the process of getting an erection.6 And as men with diabetes get older, ED problems become even more common.13
Finding the Right Treatment Option
Most cases of ED can be treated, and oral medications are often the first step. However, they have been shown to be less effective for men with diabetes, and more advanced treatment options may be needed.14 In those cases, ED treatment options such as injection therapy, vacuum devices, or a penile implant may be recommended.6
What it means for you
If you are a diabetic and experiencing ED, talk with your doctor or diabetes educator about the treatment options that may be best for you.
Did you know that erectile dysfunction precedes coronary artery disease in almost 70 percent of cases?20
ED can be an early warning sign of heart problems
With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18
ED is common among patients with cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Sexual problems usually precede the onset of CVD, and should, therefore, be considered as a risk factor for cardiac events. Similarly, patients with preexisting CVD are at increased risk of experiencing ED. Therefore, ED and CVD might be considered as two different clinical manifestations of the same systemic disease.19
In one study that followed men for an average of six years, those with ED were:
What it means for you
If you are experiencing ED, you should talk with your doctor about your potential risk for cardiovascular disease. And if you’re already taking certain medications such as nitrites for your heart or alpha-blockers to manage blood pressure, your doctor will discuss whether ED medications are right for you or whether other options may be more appropriate.
Prostate cancer isn’t considered a cause of ED on its own, but radiation treatments, hormone therapy, and surgery to remove the entire prostate gland can lead to difficulty in getting or keeping an erection. Sometimes erectile dysfunction related to prostate cancer treatment is only temporary, but many guys experience ongoing difficulties that need to be addressed by other means.
Your ability to orgasm is not connected to the prostate gland, although a man who has had a radical prostatectomy will have a dry orgasm with no ejaculation. As long as you have normal skin sensation, you should be able to have an orgasm with the right sexual stimulation. This means that treating your ED should allow you to resume a normal, healthy sex life.
Hormones, blood flow, and parts of your nervous system must all work together to get and maintain a healthy erection, but kidney disease can affect all of the above.
Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and MS (multiple sclerosis) can lead to ED because they all interfere with the brain’s ability to communicate sexual desire to the reproductive system.
Getting the Help You Need
Untreated ED can damage your self–confidence, causing a lot of stress— even depression and anxiety. Many guys with ED feel like their lives are out of their control. The good news is there’s hope. Take back control. Use our Physician Finder tool to locate a doctor in your area who can provide information on how to best treat your ED.