Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(4):1169

See related article on erectile dysfunction.

What is erectile dysfunction?

When you can't get an erection to have sex, it's called erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction is also called “impotence.” You might not be able to get an erection at all, or you might be unable to keep one long enough to finish having sex.

Is erectile dysfunction just a part of old age?

Erectile dysfunction doesn't have to be a part of getting older. It's true that as you get older, you may need more stimulation to get an erection. (You may need more stroking and touching to get an erection.) You might also need more time between erections. But the inability to get an erection isn't “just a part of getting old.”

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Some medical problems can cause erectile dysfunction, like these:

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)

If you can't keep your blood sugar or your blood pressure under control, you can get erectile dysfunction. It's important that you take your medicines for these problems just the way your doctor tells you.

Sometimes your hormones get out of balance and this causes erectile dysfunction. Your doctor will decide if you need blood tests to check your hormones. Some of your medicines could cause this problem. If this is true for you, your doctor may take you off that medicine or give you a different one.

Drinking too much, smoking too much and abusing drugs can also cause erectile dysfunction.

It's important to have a good relationship with your sexual partner. If you don't have a good relationship, you might try therapy to see if a closer relationship helps your sex life.

Can medicine help?

After your doctor checks you for medical problems and medicines that might cause erectile dysfunction, he or she may have you try a medicine to help with erectile dysfunction. Some of these medicines are injected or put into your penis. Other medicines are taken by mouth. Not everyone can use these medicines. Your doctor will help you decide if you can try them.

What other options do I have?

If the medicines aren't right for you, you could also try using vacuum pump devices, or you could have surgery. Your doctor may send you to a urologist to talk about these options.

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