Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence,is the inability to get and maintain an erection.

Erectile dysfunctionis a very common condition, particularly in older men. It is estimated that half of all men between the ages of 40and 70 will have it to some degree.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have erectile dysfunction for more than a few weeks. They will assess your general state of health because the condition can be the first sign of more serious health conditions, such as Coronary heart disease (when the hearts blood supply is blocked or interrupted).

Why does erectile dysfunction happen?

Erectile dysfunctioncan have a range of causes, both physical and psychological. Physical causes include:

  • narrowing of the blood vessels going to the penis commonly associated with high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol or diabetes
  • hormonal problems
  • surgery or injury

Psychological causes of ED include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • relationship problems

Sometimes erectile dysfunction only occurs in certain situations. For example, you may be able to get an erection during masturbation, or you may find that you sometimes wake up with an erection but you are unable to get an erection with your sexual partner.

If this is the case, it is likely the underlying cause of erectile dysfunction is psychological (stress related). If you are unable to get an erection under any circumstances, it is likely that the underlying cause is physical.

Erectile dysfunction can also be a side-effect of using certain medicines.

Your GP can usually diagnose erectile dysfunction. This will involve answering questions about your symptoms, as well as a physical examination and some simple tests.

In these casesyour GP may suggest lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, to try to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease . This mayhelp to relieve your symptoms as well as improving your general health.

You may also be given medication to treat atherosclerosis, such as cholesterol-lowering statins and drugs to reduce your blood pressure.

A number of treatmentshavebeen successful in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Medication, suchas sildenafil (sold as Viagra),can be used to manage it in at least two-thirds of cases. Vacuum pumps that encourage blood to flow to the penis and cause an erection are also successful in 90% of cases.

Psychological treatmentsinclude cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and sex therapy.

Overall, treatments forerectile dysfunctionhave improved significantly in recent years. Most men are eventually able to have sex again.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 9 Jan 2017