Erectile Dysfunction: Causes and Treatments

male patient speaking with a physician

Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an embarrassing and uncomfortable topic of conversation, even when it comes to bringing it up with our health care providers. But it shouldn’t be - about half of men ages 40 to 70 experience ED at least some of the time. 

What is erectile dysfunction?

ED is the inability to get or keep an erection that’s firm enough to have intercourse. While all men have this problem on occasion, when it happens often it can cause problems with self-confidence—not just for the man with ED, but for his partner as well. Relationships can suffer, which sometimes makes ED worse. 

What causes ED?

ED can be a symptom of several underlying health conditions, which makes it all the more important to talk with your doctor. Some medical causes of ED include:

  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Clogged arteries
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Sleep disorders
  • Hormonal disorders
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs
  • Certain prescription medications and other medical treatments
  • Injuries to the spinal cord, nerves or arteries

Because the brain plays such a key role in sexual arousal, ED can also be caused (or worsened) by psychological factors like:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Existing relationship problems

Can erectile dysfunction be treated?

Yes! Treatment will depend on the cause of the ED. If an underlying medical condition is causing or contributing to ED, then the condition needs to be treated first. Sometimes, lifestyle changes can make a big difference, such as losing weight, getting more exercise and stopping smoking. Once you and your doctor determine that you’re healthy enough for sex, then prescription medication can be used to treat the ED directly, if needed.