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If you’re having trouble getting or keeping an erection, you may be curious about erectile dysfunction (ED). Here are answers to common questions about ED — and 5 things every man should know.

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction happens when you can’t get or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. If you’ve experienced ED, you know how frustrating it can be. But there are many ways to treat ED.

How Do I Talk to My Doctor About Erectile Dysfunction?

It may feel awkward to bring up ED with your doctor. Rest assured your doctor has heard questions about ED many times before. It’s a common problem, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed.

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Can Erectile Dysfunction Be Cured?

In most cases, doctors can help you treat ED. There are effective treatments and lifestyle changes that help. Your doctor will be able to prescribe the best treatment for your situation.

Here are five essential facts about ED.

1. ED Is Common

According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 30 million men in the U.S. suffer from ED. It’s the most common sexual problem men report to their doctor.

Occasional ED is normal, even in younger men. When it becomes an ongoing problem, though, it’s time to see your doctor. More men experience ED as they get older, but chronic ED is not a normal part of aging.

2. ED May Be a Sign of Heart Disease or Diabetes

Not being able to get or keep an erection may mean something else is wrong. Frequent ED may be a warning sign of:

  • Cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure or atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries) could interrupt blood flow to the penis.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes can damage the nerves and blood vessels needed to have an erection.
  • Prostate problems. Men with an enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia) are more likely to have frequent ED.

3. There Are Common Risk Factors for ED

You’re more likely to develop erection problems if you:

  • Are over 50
  • Are overweight
  • Have diabetes
  • Have heart disease
  • Have high cholesterol
  • Lead a sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoke
  • Use drugs or drink too much alcohol

4. Erectile Dysfunction Exercises Can Help

Your doctor may recommend erectile dysfunction exercises called Kegels. They strengthen your pelvic floor and improve blood flow to the penis. You can do them anytime during the day.

To do pelvic floor exercises, tighten and release the muscles you would use to hold back urine. As you get stronger, you can increase the length of the contractions and the number of repetitions.

Other treatment options for ED include:


Doctors often treat ED with drugs such as Viagra and Cialis. You take these medications an hour or so before sex. They increase blood flow to the penis and make an erection possible for many men with ED.

Lifestyle changes

Sometimes a simple lifestyle change can help. Losing weight and beginning an exercise program may be enough to improve your ED.

Surgical procedures and other therapies

If other treatment options don’t work, your doctor may recommend penile implants, a vacuum device, or penile injections.

5. You Can Lower Your Risk of Getting ED

Living a healthy lifestyle lowers your chances of having chronic ED as you get older. Men who are obese or have related health conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes) have a greater chance of developing chronic ED.

To stave off erectile dysfunction:

Eat a healthy diet

A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, and fresh fruits and vegetables will help your body get the nutrients it needs. A healthy diet will help you maintain your weight, which will in turn help prevent ED.

Lose weight if you need to

If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to have problems with ED. Starting a healthy eating plan along with moderate exercise can help your overall health and your ED.

Get some exercise

Even moderate activity like walking will help increase blood flow to your whole body, including the penis. Exercise is a mood-booster, so it also helps you feel more confident and optimistic.

Stop smoking

Smoking can contribute to heart disease, which can lead to ED.

Cut down on alcohol

Too much alcohol can cause many health problems and contribute to ED.

Get regular checkups

The earlier you address and treat issues with ED, the better. Be sure to schedule an annual physical so you can bring up any questions or concerns with your doctor.

Urology Care Foundation, What Is Erectile Dysfunction? Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Definition and Facts for Erectile Dysfunction, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Preventing Erectile Dysfunction, Link

About Urology

The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.