What is Erectile dysfunction (impotence)?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition involving issues with getting or maintaining an erection.

In an erection, the penis becomes rigid. When an erection isn’t possible, it’s called impotence.

Erectile dysfunction can lead to erectile dysfunction in the future. However, the two conditions aren’t the same.

In this article, we discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments of erectile dysfunction.

What are the symptoms of erectile dysfunction?

The following are some of the most common symptoms of erectile dysfunction:

  • Difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection during sexual stimulation
  • Inability to achieve an erection when it’s needed (for example, during intercourse)
  • Not being able to achieve an erection when it’s needed (for example, during masturbation)
  • Sudden inability to achieve an erection
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Trouble reaching orgasm, which can lead to ejaculation
  • Pain or discomfort during sex

Certain types of ED may be more likely to be caused by other conditions, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease
  • Low testosterone levels

There are other conditions that may cause ED, such as:

  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Cancer

What causes erectile dysfunction?

The exact cause of ED is unknown. Some causes may be more likely to cause erectile dysfunction, such as:

  • Low testosterone levels. Testosterone is a hormone made in the testicles that affects sexual desire and performance. When testosterone levels are too low, this can cause erectile dysfunction.
  • An underactive or overactive sphincter. The sphincter is a muscular ring of tissue that surrounds the opening to the bladder and urethra. When this muscle becomes underactive, it may cause ED.
  • Chronic prostate problems. The prostate is a gland that surrounds the opening to the bladder and urethra. When the prostate becomes enlarged, it can cause ED.
  • Circulation disorders. Conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure can affect circulation, which can also cause ED.
  • Poor diet and nutrition. Some foods and nutritional supplements may negatively affect sexual function.
  • Obesity. Being overweight can lead to ED.

How is erectile dysfunction diagnosed?

Your doctor can make a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction based on your symptoms and history.

The diagnosis of erectile dysfunction can also be confirmed through a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor may insert a gloved finger into your vagina and ask you to squeeze. If you can’t achieve an erection, it may be due to ED.

Your doctor may also measure your blood pressure during the exam. If you have certain risk factors for heart disease, you may have your cholesterol levels measured, too.

Your doctor may also order an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) in order to check your heart rhythm and to look for signs of heart disease.

How is erectile dysfunction treated?

There are many treatment options for ED, depending on the condition causing it.

If the cause of ED is low testosterone levels, your doctor may recommend testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).

For ED caused by a problem with the sphincter, your doctor may recommend a self-care approach. For example, you may be able to improve your condition by:

  • Not having sex for a while
  • Reducing your stress
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Quitting smoking

If ED is caused by an underlying condition, treatment may be needed to address that condition.

Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery as a treatment for ED.

The following are some of the more common treatment options for ED:

  • Lifestyle changes. Losing weight and eating a healthy diet can help improve ED.
  • L-arginine supplements. These supplements can help increase blood flow to the penis, which can help improve ED.
  • Oral medications. Medications that block the effects of testosterone are available in pill form.
  • Intraurethral suppositories. These are inserted into the urethra to increase blood flow to the penis.
  • Penis pumps. The penis is filled with a fluid that’s pumped into the penis. The effects of the fluid on the penis help improve ED.
  • Testosterone replacement therapy. This involves taking testosterone injections or taking testosterone in the form of a pill.
  • Surgical procedures. If medication isn’t working, these procedures can help improve your symptoms.
  • Vascular surgery. This involves inserting a tube into the arteries that are supplying blood to the penis.

How to prevent erectile dysfunction?

There are many things that you can do to help prevent erectile dysfunction.

Some of these include:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight
  • Not smoking
  • Not drinking alcohol
  • Managing your stress
  • Quitting drugs, including smoking and recreational drugs

There are also things you can do to help improve your erectile function.

These include:

  • Keeping your blood pressure within a healthy range
  • Keeping your cholesterol within a healthy range

The bottom line

Erectile dysfunction is a common condition that affects millions of men. It’s caused by a variety of factors, such as aging, heart disease, and certain conditions.

There are various treatment options available for ED. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment option for your condition.

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