Erectile Dysfunction

Understanding Erectile Dysfunction

The physical and emotional aspects of ED

Erectile dysfunction (ED), also called impotence, is the name of the condition when a man has difficulty getting an erection firm enough or keeping it long enough for intercourse. It can also include the dissatisfaction of the size and hardness of your erection or how long the erection lasts. The condition can be diagnosed in men of any age, however, the majority of health problems that lead to ED are more common as men age. Up to half of men over age 40 experience ED at some point.


Risk factors that can cause erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is a symptom that is linked to many different health problems. Most symptoms are the result of a physical condition; however, some are associated with emotional issues. Certain lifestyle choices, such as tobacco and alcohol use or certain medications may also put a man at greater risk of experiencing ED. Men with any of the following conditions may also be at greater risk for experiencing ED and should talk to their urologist or health care provider:

  • Prostate problems and/or medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure or vascular disease
  • Cancer
  • Hypogonadism
  • Peyronie disease (curvature of the penis)
  • Injury to nerves or blood vessels
  • Emotional issues such as stress, depression, anxiety or relationship problems
  • Low testosterone

Symptoms of erectile dysfunction

There are several signs that indicate ED may be present. It is common to experience erection difficulty from time to time, however, if any of the below symptoms are persistent and causing physical and emotional distress, then ED may be the cause. Erectile dysfunction symptoms might include the following ongoing issues:

  • Not being able to get an erection
  • Not being able to keep an erection firm enough for sex
  • Not being able to consistently get an erection
  • Low sexual desire

Diagnosing erectile dysfunction

If you are experiencing symptoms of low sexual desire or difficulty getting or keeping an erection, talk to your urologist or primary care physician. Erectile dysfunction can be diagnosed through a thorough sexual health history exam, a physical exam, and lab tests including blood counts, urine tests, cholesterol and testosterone tests. Sometimes a urologist will order a penile ultrasound to determine the amount of blood flow in the penis. A psychological exam can also uncover any underlying mental health conditions.


Treating erectile dysfunction

There are many treatments that are effective in addressing the condition, including lifestyle changes, prescription medications, penile injections and testosterone therapy. Depending on the cause of ED, though, lifestyle changes and medications may not be enough. In these cases, other treatment options are available, including:

  • Vacuum devices and erectile aids
  • Penile implants including inflatable implants or rod implants

New treatments are also currently being studied. Based on the cause of ED, your specialist will discuss your treatment options with you.


To find a specialist experienced in treating erectile dysfunction, visit the Cincinnati Sexual Health Consortium provider page.


The following national organizations provide additional information on erectile dysfunction.


Urology Care Foundation


American Urological Association


International Society for Sexual Medicine