Erectile Dysfunction

Also known as impotence

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection that lasts long enough for a man to have satisfying intercourse or orgasm. Occasional bouts of ED are common: 43% of men in the United States experience erectile difficulties from time to time. 

From a medical standpoint, failure to achieve an erection 20% of the time is typically not cause for concern. If it occurs more than 50 percent of the time, there is likely an underlying physical and/or psychological reason for the problem.

Also known as impotence, ED is more prevalent in older men—44% of men ages 60 to 69 and 70% of men 70 years and older experience erectile difficulties, compared to just 5% of men under age 40. Other risk factors include vascular disease (including diabetes and hypertension), obesity, smoking, neurological disorders, psychological states (stress, depression), pelvic surgery, and trauma. Treatment options include oral medications, intraurethral medications, injectable medications, vacuum device, diet/habit changes, or other options including surgery.

ED can be the first sign of a more serious health problem and should prompt a baseline cardiac (heart) evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes erectile dysfunction?

    Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection. Under normal conditions, sexual stimulation causes blood to rush into the penis making it rigid and stays trapped until ejaculation. In ED, a breakdown in the process is caused by physical or psychological issues. Age, medications, medical conditions (diabetes, hypertension for example), and lifestyle factors such as stress and drinking alcohol increase the risk of ED.

  • Is erectile dysfunction permanent?

    Most men fail to achieve or maintain an erection occasionally and roughly one in 10 adult males experience erectile dysfunction (ED) on a long-term basis. ED does not have to be permanent and can be treated with medication, hormones, therapy, injections, and vacuum devices. In some cases, if medication is not effective, penile implant surgery is used to relieve ED.

  • How do you fix erectile dysfunction?

    Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be very troubling, but it can be fixed. Risk factors are reduced when possible. The most common treatment for ED is prescription medications that help to achieve an erection. If these are not effective, additional medications are considered, including penile injection. Non-drug alternatives include vacuum devices and penile constriction rings. If there is a psychological cause for ED, therapy can help.

  • Can stress cause erectile dysfunction?

    Yes, stress can contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED). The brain plays an important role in sexual arousal—it triggers the physical response that causes an erection. Stressful experiences, relationship difficulties, and anxiety about sexual performance can interfere with sexual excitement. Sometimes a previous bout of ED leads to worries of another episode and it becomes a negative loop.

  • Does drinking alcohol cause erectile dysfunction?

    Drinking alcohol can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). Some men experience difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection after a night of heavy drinking, but this is usually temporary. Chronic alcohol use can lead to long-term ED. One study found 37% of men who meet the criteria for alcohol-use disorder experienced sexual dysfunction, with 25% experiencing ED.

  • Is erectile dysfunction a sign of a serious medical issue?

    The occasional bout of erectile dysfunction (ED) is probably nothing to worry about, but if you are regularly having difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection, it may be a sign of a more serious health condition including cardiac issues. Medical conditions that affect circulation or the nervous system, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and neurological diseases, can all cause erectile dysfunction.

Key Terms

Doctor discussing prostate ultrasound scan with a patient
Tadalafil Helps With BPH and Associated Erectile Dysfunction
bodybuilding
Using DHEA for Health May Increase Testosterone Levels
Close-up of dry ginseng slices, capsules and roots
Buying Effective Supplements for ED
viagra
What Erectile Dysfunction Drugs Should I Use?
Happy mature couple lying together on a bed
Could Your High Blood Pressure Medication Boost Your Sex Life?
Priapism Is a Painful Erection That Needs Medical Treatment
What Is Priapism and What Causes It?
Page Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pastuszak AW. Current diagnosis and management of erectile dysfunction. Curr Sex Health Rep. 2014;6(3):164-176. doi:10.1007/s11930-014-0023-9

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Erectile dysfunction. Updated October 14, 2019.

  3. Burnett AL, Nehra A, Breau RH. Erectile dysfunction: AUA guideline. J Urol. 2018 Sep;200(3):633-641. doi: 10.1016/j.juro.2018.05.004.

  4. Jordan J, Kurschat C, Reuter H. Arterial hypertension. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2018;115(33-34):557-568. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2018.0557

  5. Secomb TW. Hemodynamics. Compr Physiol. 2016;6(2):975-1003. doi:10.1002/cphy.c150038

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Erectile dysfunction.

  7. Rew KT, Heidelbaugh JJ. Erectile dysfunction. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(10):820-827.

  8. Cleveland Clinic. Sexual dysfunction. Updated January 24, 2015.

Additional Reading