What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can last a few months to years. Depending on the underlying cause, you may have ED for the rest of your life. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V), your erectile problems need to occur for at least six months to count as ED.
Erectile dysfunction can be cured most of the time. To do this, you’ll need to identify and treat whatever is causing your condition. This means that your ED will last for as long as your treatment takes.
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to get or maintain an erection when you want one. There are two main types: primary and secondary.
Primary ED is rare. If you have this version, you’ve never been able to get an erection. This condition is often easy to detect due to visible congenital defects.
Secondary ED is the kind most people mean when they talk about the condition. People with secondary ED have previously been able to get and maintain erections but now have problems.
The rest of this article refers to secondary ED.
It’s essential to remember that everyone occasionally struggles to get an erection. It qualifies as erectile dysfunction only when it happens to you frequently or when it gets progressively worse.
Keep in mind that it’s a fairly common condition. More than 50% of all males between the ages of 40 and 70 years report some level of erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction causes
Erectile dysfunction has both physical and psychological causes.
Some activities can put you at an increased risk of developing ED. These are usually lifestyle choices that are within your power to change. They include:
- Using particular prescription and recreational drugs
- Heavy alcohol use
- Smoking tobacco products
- Not getting enough exercise
Another physical reason that you could have ED is because of an underlying medical condition. Some of these can be quite serious and will need treatments of their own. In this case, your ED is like an alarm bell that’ll trigger your doctor to hunt for other health issues in your body.
Medical conditions that can cause ED include:
- Atherosclerosis — where your blood vessels harden and become blocked
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Cancer treatments near your genitals — including surgery and radiation for prostate, colorectal, and bladder cancer
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peyronie’s disease
- Injury to your genitals or nearby body parts
Some medications can also cause ED. This can be a problem if you need the medicine to treat a different condition and there aren’t any alternatives. Your doctor should have already discussed this side effect with you if it’s a frequent side effect of one of your prescriptions.
Some medications that can cause ED include:
- Antiandrogens — used to treat prostate cancer
- High blood pressure medications
- Sedatives — anything that’s meant to make you calm and sleepy
- Ulcer medication
- Appetite suppressants
An underlying psychological condition is one of the main reasons men of all ages develop ED. Psychological causes can develop at any time. They can be related to a number of problems, including:
Can erectile dysfunction be cured?
Most cases of ED can be cured.
Permanent solutions usually take longer to work because you need to solve any underlying physical and mental health problems. Sometimes the fix is as easy as changing a medication, but your treatment could also involve months of weight loss or years of therapy.
Luckily, temporary solutions are available that can work within minutes. These consist of medications and devices that you’ll need to use every time you want an erection.
Erectile dysfunction treatments
Your doctor will decide on the treatment options that are best for you based on the underlying cause of your ED.
You should seek counseling or see a therapist if your ED has a psychological cause. Sometimes just talking to someone about whatever has you worried is enough to get your sex life back on track. But therapy isn’t a quick fix. You’ll need to be patient with yourself as you work through this process. It could easily take months or years before you’ve conquered your psychological problems.
For most medical conditions, you’ll be able to regain normal sexual function once you get the underlying disease under control. How long this takes and what it involves will vary drastically depending on your underlying condition. Your doctor will outline a treatment plan for you once they’ve successfully diagnosed the medical cause of your ED.
While you wait for these long-term solutions to take effect, there are many other ways to get an erection when you want it. You’ll need to repeat these methods every time you want to engage in sexual activities.
These treatments include:
- Medications called oral phosphodiester inhibitors — this is the most common treatment option and can be used along with most other treatments
- Self-injected medications — applied inside of your urethra, for example
- Physical devices — including vacuum pumps to become erect and tight rings to prevent blood from leaving your erection
The final treatment option, surgical implant, usually is only used when all other methods have failed. Two main kinds of implants are commonly used today. One is a silicone rod, and the other is an inflatable device with distinct chambers. You flood the chambers with saline whenever you want to become erect. Around 95% of the couples that choose this treatment option report satisfaction after the surgery.
When should you see a doctor for ED?
You should see your doctor whenever you first start to have erectile problems. This is the best way to figure out what’s causing the issue and treat any potentially fatal underlying conditions.
Also, make sure you seek medical help if you notice any negative side effects from medications that are meant to treat your condition. For example, if you experience an erection that lasts longer than four hours.
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European Urology Focus: "Sexual Dysfunction and Bother Due to Erectile Dysfunction in the Healthy Elderly Male Population: Prevalence from a Systematic Review."
The Journal of Sexual Medicine: "Considerations for diagnostic criteria for erectile dysfunction in DSM V."
Merck Manual Professional Version: "Erectile Dysfunction."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms and Causes," "Treatment."
Urology Care Foundation: "Erectile Dysfunction (ED)."
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