Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is the medical term for trouble in getting or keeping an erection. Also known more traditionally as "impotence," ED is most often the result of health problems that pose more serious complications if left untreated. These problems include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Some prescription drugs
- Unhealthy habits like smoking, overeating, and not exercising
- Treatments for prostate cancer
- An injury or disease that affects the nerves
Causes of ED
When a man is sexually stimulated, the brain sends nerve signals to the penis, causing penile muscles to relax and let in blood. As the penis becomes inflates like a balloon, veins in the penis close and trap the blood.
After either ejaculation or the end of sexual arousal, the veins open up and blood flows back into the body.
Treatments for ED
Sometimes ED can be treated successfully just by making lifestyle changes - increasing exercise, quitting smoking, losing weight, and reducing alcohol consumption. Any man who has made these changes and still has erection problems should see a your doctor about other treatments, which may include:
- Oral medication. Your doctor may prescribe a pill to treat ED. Current brands include Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis. These drugs work by increasing blood flow to the penis. Do not take any of these drugs if you are taking nitrates, a type of heart medicine.
- Injection. Medicines injected into the shaft of the penis or inserted into the tip of the penis usually cause an erection within minutes.
- Vacuum device. A vacuum tube inserted over the penis can create an erection. As air is pumped out of the tube, the penis expands and blood flows into it. After the tube is removed, a specially designed rubber band is placed at the base of the penis to keep the blood from flowing out.
- Counseling. Even though most cases of ED have a physical cause, counseling can help couples deal with the emotional effects.
- Penile implant. If other options fail, a surgeon can implant a device into the penis that inflates or can be straightened to create an erection.