Erectile Dysfunction | Urology | Loyola Medicine

Erectile Dysfunction

Overview and Facts about Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction, also referred to as impotence, is a urology condition characterized by an inability to attain and maintain an erection during sexual activity. During an erection, blood flows to the penis, causing the penis to become stiff or hardened. During erectile dysfunction, this process is compromised. Erectile dysfunction is multifactorial and can represent a variety of general health conditions. Treatment will include improving overall general health and individualizing treatment options.

Signs and Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

A major sign and symptom of erectile dysfunction is difficulty getting or maintaining an erection. This may be accompanied by a reduced interest in engaging in sexual activity. Feelings of insecurity, stress, depression, and anxiety may also accompany these physical symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors of Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is common to the aging process in men. Certain conditions, such as heart disease, metabolic disease, smoking, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), often cause erectile dysfunction.  

Other causes and risk factors:

  • Age 50 years and over
  • Alcohol and/or tobacco abuse
  • Anxiety, stress and/or depression
  • Being underweight or overweight
  • Certain medications, such as blood pressure medication, antidepressants, appetite suppressants, and sedatives
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Injured, clogged or blocked blood vessels that may flow to or within the penis
  • High blood pressure and/or cholesterol​
  • Low hormone (e.g. testosterone) levels
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Sleep deprivation or disorders
  • The presence of scar tissue within the penis (e.g. Peyronie’s disease)

Tests and Diagnosis of Erectile Dysfunction

The best way to test for and diagnose erectile dysfunction is to determine whether it's known causes are present in the individual.  An overall health assessment is important. A validated questionnaire is also used to help guide treatment options.  An exam is conducted to assess personal and medical history and the severity of physical and behavioral symptoms associated with erectile dysfunction.  

Treatment and Care for Erectile Dysfunction

Treatment for erectile dysfunction is individualized and depends on the cause. For example, erectile dysfunction can be treated with medications that help increase blood flow to the penis, such as phosphodiesterase inhibitors. Other treatment options include penile prosthetics, intracavernosal injections, vacuum devices, and intraurethral suppositories. Evaluation for low testosterone or low libido is also considered. Peyronie's disease (penile curvature with erections) can also be treated when treating erectile dysfunction. Regular exercise, weight loss and quitting tobacco and alcohol use can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. Mental health treatment or rehabilitation can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.