For men, talking with your doctor about erectile dysfunction may be uncomfortable. But with a wide variety of solutions available, the solution might be simpler than you realize.
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is when a man cannot get an erection or keep it firm enough for sexual intercourse. An erection occurs when blood flows into the vessels around the penis. ED occurs when there is a problem keeping an erection, and it occurs more than half the time during intercourse.
"Erectile dysfunction becomes more common as men age, and at least 30 percent of men over 60 will experience it,” said Ross Wopat, MD, from Samaritan Urology. “A doctor can evaluate each man to determine if he is physically able to have an erection. When we know if the problem is physical or psychological that can help direct treatment."
Dr. Wopat reports that although ED becomes more common as men age, the condition is tied more closely to weight and related health problems.
Conditions that restrict blood flow to the penis such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and smoking can cause ED. According to the Urology Care Foundation drug or alcohol abuse, obesity and lack of exercise can also contribute to the condition, as can psychological factors like stress or depression.
Making lifestyle changes to improve overall health, such as exercise and weight loss can improve erectile function. Getting mental health support for psychological issues like stress or depression can also help.
For those who need help beyond lifestyle changes, oral medication like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis are popular options with good results. Men need only take a pill before having sex to have an erection firm enough for sex. The results are typically the closest to a natural erection. The Urology Care Foundation states that oral medications are helpful for up to 80 percent of men and that side effects are generally mild, although drug interactions are possible.
A vacuum erection device is a small tube that can be slipped over the penis. The tube creates a seal and the man squeezes an attached pump to remove air and create a vacuum, which pulls blood into the surrounding tissue and creates an erection. The tube is removed and a rubber ring is placed at the base of the penis to hold the blood in the tissue and maintain an erection for up to 30 minutes. The Urology Care Foundation reports that the device is very effective for about 75 percent of men and is safe to use long term. However, since no tissue beyond the base of the ring is affected intercourse may feel different. The ring may also reduce the force of ejaculation.
An injection of medication on the side of the penis can also be used to create an erection. The medication must be injected immediately before sex, but according to Dr. Wopat the treatment is typically painless and creates a natural-feeling erection for the majority of men.
The same medication that is used in a penile injection is also available as a tiny pill that can be inserted into the urethra, the interior portion of the penis that carries urine out of the body. The medication is absorbed and creates an erection, however the success rate is lower than when using an injection.
There are also surgical options, but Dr. Wopat reports that surgery is usually a last resort and men typically have a good result with one of the options above. With any treatment for ED, Dr. Wopat cautions men to talk to their doctor before purchasing devices or supplements.
"This is a very common condition and there are many treatment options to choose from that are fairly simple,” said Dr. Wopat. “It can be helpful for a spouse or significant other to be involved in the decision making and encourage him to talk to the doctor to find a solution."
Learn more about erectile dysfunction in Samaritan’s Health Library.