Erectile dysfunction (ED), once shrouded in secrecy, is now in the spotlight, thanks to high-profile advertisements for drugs like Cialis, Viagra, Levitra, and Stendra. But despite this greater awareness of ED, many men — and women — don't really know much about this condition. Here are four things to know about ED.
- ED is often the result of diseases or conditions that become more common with age. It can also be a side effect of the medications used to treat them. Other possible causes of ED include prostate surgery, stress, relationship problems, and depression.
- Other age-related factors besides disease can also affect a man's ability to have an erection — for example, with age, tissues become less elastic and nerve communication slows. But even these factors don't explain many cases of ED.
- Cardiovascular disease is a common cause of ED. Clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) affect not only the blood vessels of the heart, but those throughout the body as well. In fact, in up to 30% of men who see their doctors about ED, the condition is the first hint that they have cardiovascular disease.
- Intriguing findings from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study suggest there may be a natural ebb and flow to ED — that is, for some men, trouble with erections may occur, last for a significant amount of time, and then partly or fully disappear without treatment.
Regardless of the cause, ED often can be effectively addressed. For some men, simply losing weight and exercising more may help. Others may need medications, and there are other options available as well. Given the variety of therapies available, the possibility of finding the right solution is greater than ever.
For more on diagnosing and treating ED, buy What to do about Erectile Dysfunction, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.