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Erectile Dysfunction


What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is when you cannot get or keep an erection for sexual activity.

What causes ED?

  • Conditions that lead to nerve problems, such as a spinal cord injury, diabetes, or stroke
  • Hormone imbalances, such as low testosterone, high prolactin, or a thyroid disorder
  • Medical conditions that decrease blood flow, such as high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis
  • Medicines, such as those to treat depression and high blood pressure
  • Penis deformities or a groin or back injury
  • Smoking and alcohol abuse

What increases my risk for ED?

  • An enlarged prostate
  • Drug abuse
  • Increasing age
  • Obesity
  • Spine or groin surgeries
  • Stress, depression, and anxiety

What may be done to learn the cause of my ED?

A rectal exam may be done to check for an enlarged prostate. Blood and urine tests are done to check for medical conditions that may have caused your ED. You may also need tests to check your blood flow and nerve function.

How is ED treated?

Treatment may depend on the cause of your ED.

  • ED medicines that help you have an erection may be prescribed. These medicines are taken before you have sex. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on when and how to take these medicines. You may have a life-threatening reaction if you mix these medicines with medicines that contain nitrates. Medicines with nitrates include nitroglycerin and other heart medicines.
  • Testosterone may be given to increase the levels in your blood and improve your ED. You may need to use a skin cream or wear a patch.
  • Penis injections may be done to help improve your blood flow.
  • A vacuum device is a tube that is placed over the penis. A hand pump is connected to the tube and acts as a vacuum. This may help increase blood flow to the penis.
  • Therapy may be needed to treat emotional problems that may be causing your ED.
  • Surgery may be recommended if other treatments do not work. Surgery includes a penile implant or prosthesis. Surgery may also be done to improve blood flow. Ask for more information about surgeries for ED.

How can I decrease my risk for ED?

  • Do not smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Ask for information about how to stop smoking if you need help.
  • Limit alcohol. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Manage your medical conditions. Eat a variety of healthy foods and stay active. This can help control high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity.
  • Reduce stress. Learn ways to relax, such as deep breathing, meditation, and listening to music.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have changes in your vision, headaches, or back pain after you take your ED medicine.
  • You have a painful erection.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have chest pain, dizziness, or nausea after you take ED medicines or during or after sex.
  • You have an erection for more than 4 hours after you take your ED medicine.
  • You see blood in your urine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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