Erectile dysfunction (ED) refers to a man's inability to obtain and maintain an adequate erection for sexual activity. Most men occasionally experience ED, which is normal. However, ED is more common in older men, but can affect men at any age. When ED becomes a continuous problem, it can interfere with a man's psychological wellbeing as well as his and his partner's sex life.

It is also notable that ED may not be an isolated process. ED has also been found to be a harbinger of heart disease and some men with erectile dysfunction may benefit from seeing a heart doctor.

Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:

  • The frequent inability to obtain a full erection.
  • The complete inability to achieve an erection.
  • The inability to maintain an erection throughout sexual intercourse.

Causes and Risk Factors of ED

There are many causes of erectile dysfunction (ED), some physical and some psychological. Occasionally, ED may be caused by both physical and psychological factors. However, ED can be one of the first signs of an underlying physical illness. Your physician can help you determine what is causing the ED and work out a treatment that is right for you.

Some of the more common causes of ED are listed below:

  • Cardiovascular disease that affects the blood supply to the pelvis
  • Kidney disease
  • Diabetic neuropathy, i.e., nerve damage resulting from diabetes
  • Surgery or treatment for prostate or bladder cancer
  • Injury to the spinal cord
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hormonal disorders, specifically low levels of testosterone
  • Prescription medications such as antidepressants, antihistamines and tranquilizers
  • Substance abuse including alcohol, marijuana and tobacco
  • Stress, anxiety, fatigue, and depression
  • Negative feelings towards one sexual partner.

Diagnosing ED

A patient's medical history and recent physical and emotional changes will play an important role in diagnosing erectile dysfunction (ED). Blood tests to check for diseases and disorders such as low hormone levels, diabetes and heart disease may also be necessary. Other tests to check for physical causes of ED may include:

  • Cavernosometry. This test measures penile vascular pressure.
  • Cavernosography. This test involves injecting a dye into the blood vessels to view any possible abnormalities in blood flow into and out of the penis.
  • Penile Doppler Ultrasonography. This test determines the adequacy of arterial circulation in the genital organs and can also indirectly assess the ability of the penis to keep the blood from “leaking out”.
  • Neurologic evaluation. Your doctor may check for possible nerve damage by conducting a physical examination to test for touch sensation in your genital area.