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Unveiling the Truth: Erectile Dysfunction - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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Maria Jacob

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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Persistent erectile dysfunction can create stress, lower self-esteem, and contribute to marital troubles. Difficulties in achieving or sustaining an erection may serve as an indicator of an underlying medical issue requiring treatment and could also pose a risk factor for the development of heart disease. In this article, we will discuss the physiology of erection, etiology, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment associated with erectile dysfunction.

What is erectile dysfunction?

"What is erectile dysfunction?" is a common question posed by individuals seeking clarification on the medical condition characterized by the inability to consistently obtain and sustain an erection strong enough to engage in satisfying sexual activity (Salonia, et al. 2021). Erectile dysfunction affects 15% of men annually (Johannes, et al. 2000), and it is estimated to affect 350 million men worldwide by 2025 (Abolfotouh and Al-Helali 2001). Erectile dysfunction is more commonly observed in men aged 40 years and older (Seftel 2003). Erectile dysfunction can either be a contributing factor or a result of male factor infertility in men who are dealing with infertility. Erectile dysfunction causes can vary and may include factors such as cardiovascular issues, hormonal imbalances, or psychological stress.

Understanding Erection

Penile erection is a complex process that occurs through a coordinated interaction between the nerves, the blood vessels, and the hormones (Argiolas, et al. 2023).

  1. Erection begins with sexual arousal, stimulation, or thoughts.

  2. When sexually aroused, the brain releases neurotransmitters (dopamine and nitric oxide) and also sends a signal to the nerves.

  3. The nerve ending in penis releases nitric oxide.

  4. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels of the penis.

  5. The dilated blood vessel increases the blood flow into the erectile tissues (corpus cavernosum).

  6. Increased blood flow expands and enlarges the corpus cavernosum. This results in the penis becoming erect and rigid.

  7. Once ejaculation occurs, brain releases a neurotransmitter (usually norepinephrine), which terminates the erection process and takes the penis back to the flaccid state.

The capacity to attain and sustain an erection is a crucial element of men’s sexual well-being and can be influenced by a diverse array of factors, which are discussed in the section below.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can be characterized as psychological, neurological, hormonal, vascular, drug-induced, and age-related. Exploring the diverse array of reasons for erectile dysfunction, which can range from vascular issues and hormonal imbalances to psychological factors, is crucial for devising personalized and effective treatment strategies. Let us understand these in brief.


  • Psychological conditions such as depression have a negative impact on erectile function (Liu Q, et al. 2018)

  • Deterioration of couple relationships due to conflicts within the family or within the couple has also been studied as a cause of male erectile dysfunction (Boddi, et al. 2015).

  • One of the most common sexual complaints is anxiety disorder (performance anxiety), leading to premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction (Pyke 2020.

  • Stress hormones like cortisol terminate the erection process and inhibits the normal sexual response cycle (Rahardjo, et al. 2023).


Diseases such as stroke (Ostfeld, et al. 2021), Alzheimer’s (Beason-Held, et al. 2023), pelvic injury (Johnsen, et al. 2018), etc. can disrupt the nerve signals responsible for triggering an erection


Erectile dysfunction can result from low levels of androgens (male sex hormones) like testosterone (Shabsigh, et al. 2006).


  • Hypertension: Erectile dysfunction is roughly twice as common in individuals with hypertension as it is in those who have normal blood pressure (Viigimaa M, et al. 2014).

  • Diabetes mellitus: Men with diabetes mellitus experience a roughly 3.5-fold higher prevalence of erectile dysfunction compared to those who do not have diabetes mellitus (Defeudis, et al. 2022).

  • Atherosclerosis: In a condition where arteries become narrowed and hardened and restrict blood flow throughout the body (including arteries in the penis), may lead to difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection (Tsujimura, et al 2017).

  • Peyronie’s disease: Peyronie's disease is a condition characterized by the development of fibrous tissue, known as plaque, beneath the skin of the penis. The fibrous tissue can arise from either an injury (Tunuguntla 2001) or a genetic factor (Patel, et al.2020). This microinjury triggers inflammation beneath the skin of the penis, which ultimately transforms into scar tissue, often resulting in the development of penile curvature. In this condition, the scar tissue is rigid and lacks elasticity, making it resistant to stretching during an erection.


The following drug class accounts for erectile dysfunction through different mechanisms of action ( Kaplan-Marans, et al. 2022).

  • Drug classes like antiandrogens, including 5-α reductase inhibitors (finasteride and dutasteride).

  • Neuropsychiatric medications like paliperidone, citalopram, sertraline, escitalopram, quetiapine, olanzapine, fluoxetine, venlafaxine, risperidone, aripiprazole, gabapentin, pregabalin, and oxycodone

  • Cardiac medications like amlodipine, simvastatin, and atorvastatin


  • Chronic alcohol use (Jiann 2010) and current cigarette smoking (Millett, et al 2006) are also associated with erectile dysfunction.

  • Age: The likelihood of experiencing erectile dysfunction varies as one ages, both when considering age alone and when considering the presence of other risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. An approximate 40% likelihood of experiencing some degree of erectile dysfunction is estimated for men in their 40s, and this likelihood tends to rise by an additional 10% for each subsequent decade of life (Seftel 2003 and Ferrini 2017) .

  • Foods to prevent erectile dysfunction include flavonoid-rich foods like fruits and vegetables (Cassidy et al. 2016).

Let us also break a myth: “Does masturbation cause erectile dysfunction?”. A study on 3586 men of a mean age of 40 years evaluated the role of masturbation on erectile dysfunction. The study showed weak or no association between masturbation frequency and erectile dysfunction (Rowland, et al. 2023) .

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Erectile Dysfunction

Unable to achieve or maintain an erection during sexual activity is the primary symptom of erectile dysfunction (Viigimaa, et al. 2014) . A number of illnesses, including diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, spinal cord compression, pituitary tumors, and psychological conditions, can infrequently manifest with erectile dysfunction (Lue 2000) . An issue with the diagnosis arises from the patient’s (particularly in young men) discomfort in discussing sexual issues (Ho, et al. 2011). Erectile dysfunction can be diagnosed by utilizing questionnaires or by conducting a thorough review of an individual's medical and sexual history. In the majority of cases, a combination of medical and sexual history and laboratory tests is adequate for identifying and managing erectile dysfunction. Additional tests can be performed for specific situations or when there is a requirement for an in-depth etiological diagnosis (Glina, et al 2014). Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce emotional stress and help overcome performance anxiety (Nguyen, et al. 2017)

Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction

Many individuals wonder, ‘Is erectile dysfunction curable?’, and the answer often depends on the underlying causes and individual circumstances. Understanding the multifaceted nature of erectile dysfunction causes is crucial, as it can be influenced by physical health, lifestyle choices, and emotional well-being, necessitating a holistic approach to address the issue effectively. Understanding the various types of erectile dysfunction, including organic, psychogenic, and mixed forms, is essential for tailoring effective treatment approaches based on the specific underlying factors contributing to the condition. “What is the latest treatment for erectile dysfunction?” is a common inquiry as individuals seek up-to-date information on evolving medical interventions to address this condition. Let us understand some options for the latest treatment for erectile dysfunction:

  • Psychosexual therapy (counselling):

    The engagement of mental health professionals can aid in addressing related issues, such as lowering performance anxiety, encouraging treatment compliance, resolving relationship issues, spotting interpersonal disputes, and establishing reasonable expectations for the partnership (Sooriyamoorthy T and Leslie 2023).

  • Medical Therapy:

    • Medicines for erectile dysfunction like sildenafil and tadalafil are first-line choices for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (Khera and Goldstein 2011) .

    • Topical anesthetic agents have been shown to improve ejaculatory control and sexual satisfaction (Xia, et al. 2013).

    • Testosterone replacement therapy is indicated in patients with low levels of testosterone and is beneficial in patients with erectile dysfunction (Shabsigh, et al. 2006).

  • Lifestyle modification:

    Risk factors for erectile dysfunction like smoking, insufficient physical activity, poor dietary choices, excess weight or obesity, metabolic syndrome, and excessive alcohol consumption can be managed by the promotion of healthy lifestyles. A healthy lifestyle would yield great benefits in alleviating the impact of sexual dysfunction (Maiorino, et al. 2015). Incorporating a diet rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients is often recommended as a form of natural "food for erectile dysfunction," promoting vascular health and overall well-being.

  • Vacuum Erection Device:

    A mechanical device based on the concept of creating a vacuum around the penis, drawing blood into the organ to facilitate an erection. This device has been shown to be a safe, inexpensive, and easy method for patients with erectile dysfunction to engage in sexual intercourse (Segenreich, et al.199)(). While the effectiveness of these devices is typically high, with success rates ranging from 70% to 80%, patient satisfaction rates tend to be less impressive (Sooriyamoorthy T and Leslie 2023).

  • Surgery

    In situations where medications prove ineffective, a physician might advise surgery as a treatment option for erectile dysfunction. Common surgical processes include penile prosthesis implantation (Ji, et al. 2015) and penile revascularization surgery (Molodysky, et al. 2013).

We can empower ourselves to face erectile dysfunction head-on by comprehending the wide range of causes, identifying the symptoms, and investigating the numerous diagnostic and therapeutic choices. Understanding the various erectile dysfunction reasons is crucial for developing targeted and effective treatment plans tailored to address the specific underlying causes in individuals

This article is intended solely for informational purposes. Always consult a qualified physician before considering any medication or treatment for erectile dysfunction.


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