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What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 13:46
Contributors to this article: 

Culley C Carson MD
Edgar J Sanford MD
W R Guirguis MB BCh DPM MRCPsych
Guy Slowik FRCS

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to obtain and maintain an erection that is firm enough for a man to have intercourse, or the inability to keep an erection long enough to ejaculate inside the vagina. It is a newer and better name for what was previously called impotence.

It can happen in one of two ways:

  • A man may be unable to get an erection at all.
  • A man may lose his erection during intercourse, before he ejaculates.

A man is considered to have erectile dysfunction if he is unable to get or maintain an erection in at least 50 percent of his attempts at intercourse.

Erectile dysfunction is a problem for both the man and his partner. In most cases, it is a temporary condition that will disappear with little or no treatment. In others, it can be an ongoing difficulty that requires treatment.

In most men, erectile dysfunction does not affect their sex drive. ED also does not affect a man's ability to have an orgasm once he achieves an erection.


Facts about erectile dysfunction

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects more than a third of adult men of all ages.
  • ED affects more than half of adult men over age 50.
  • In the United States, up to 20 million men are affected by erectile dysfunction.
  • ED can be successfully treated in the vast majority of men. A variety of treatment options are available.
  • Cutting down on smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug abuse should be among the first lines of treatment, as they can affect potency. Erectile problems also can be a side effect of medication.

Is It All In The Mind?

Until recently, psychological factors were believed responsible for the majority of cases of erectile dysfunction. Impotent men often were given dismissive and unhelpful advice such as "don't worry" or "just relax and it will take care of itself."

Today, with vast improvements in diagnostic methods and more sophistication in the approach to the problem, the conclusion is that physical factors are the main cause in the majority of cases. But because the brain does play an important role in sexual activity, there is a definite mind-body connection as well.

How Common Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction happens much more often than most people think - it affects more than half of adult men over age 50, and more than a third of all adult men. Regardless of the cause, erectile dysfunction can decrease a man's self esteem and harm his relationship with his partner.

Erectile dysfunction is common

Almost all men experience occasional erectile problems. About one in ten adult men experience erectile dysfunction. In the United States, up to 20 million men are affected by erectile dysfunction. Definite numbers are not known, however, because many men do not seek medical assistance for the problem.

Erectile dysfunction can happen at any age

The chance of erectile dysfunction does increase with age. But erectile dysfunction can affect men at any age and at any time in their lives.

Is Erectile Dysfunction Treatable?

Yes. Erectile dysfunction can be successfully treated in the vast majority of individuals. In fact, there have never been more treatment options. Most men regain their ability to have intercourse using one or more of the options available.

Medical treatments combined with counseling, to educate and reassure you and your partner about the condition, often are most effective.


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