9 Surprising Facts About Erectile Dysfunction

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on May 20, 2021
  • businessman-leaning-on-handrail
    Erectile Dysfunction Facts
    Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is difficulty getting or keeping an erection. Many men—and their partners—have misconceptions about ED. It isn’t always an easy topic to discuss. Your doctor is the best resource for understanding whether or not you have ED, its underlying cause, and what to do about it. Start with these nine facts about erectile dysfunction.
  • Portrait of confident business colleagues
    Fact #1: Erectile dysfunction is a common problem.
    If you have ED, you are not alone. Most men have occasional problems with erections. In the United States, as many as 30 million American men have ED and about 50% of men older than 40 experience some level of it. By age 75, it affects nearly 1 out of 2 men. While the incidence of ED tends to increase with age, ED is not an inevitable part of aging. The problem is usually more about health conditions and lifestyle habits.
  • Doctor measuring blood pressure
    Fact #2: Most cases of erectile dysfunction are due to a physical cause.
    It’s true that psychological and emotional issues can cause problems with sexual function. Stress, anxiety and depression are examples. But most cases of ED have a physical cause—something that affects the blood flow or nerve supply to the penis. Chronic medical conditions are the main culprit in ED, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and hardening of the arteries. This means having ED can be a sign of other underlying problems. Other possible causes include spinal cord injury, prostate or bladder surgery, and certain medications.
  • Man drinking pint of beer
    Fact #3: Lifestyle habits can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
    It’s important to be honest with your doctor about your lifestyle habits. They may be contributing to ED and your doctor can only help if he or she has all the facts. Your doctor may suggest cutting back on alcohol, increasing your physical activity, losing some weight, or stopping smoking. Some of these changes may seem overwhelming or unachievable, but your doctor can help you find solutions that work for you.
  • About to kiss
    Fact #4: It’s probably not low testosterone.
    Testosterone may be the most important male hormone, but when it comes to ED, it is not often to blame. Low testosterone can affect the desire for sex, but not usually the state of the erection. Erections depend primarily on two things—nerve supply and blood flow. Once sensory or mental stimulation starts, nerves in the area control muscles that allow blood to flow into the penis. This causes an erection.  
  • Little blue pill
    Fact #5: Treatment for erectile dysfunction requires a doctor’s order.
    The first step in treating ED is to address any underlying medical conditions, which may resolve the problem. If you still have trouble sustaining an erection, you can discuss treatment options with your doctor. Depending on the physical cause, this may include:

    • Oral medicines, including sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardefanil (Levitra)
    • Injectable medicine or suppositories, such as alprostadil (Caverject)
    • Vacuum devices or implants
    • Surgery to repair damaged blood vessels in the penis

    You might need to try different treatments to see which one works best for you.
  • 3D DNA
    Fact #6: The solution could be in your genes.
    The future of ED treatment may be in your genes. Researchers are testing gene therapy as a potential long-term treatment approach for ED, and possibly a cure. Other researchers are exploring the use of stem cell therapy. If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial for ED, talk with your doctor. Clinical trials can offer early access to new treatments and can help other men with ED by advancing research.  
  • senior male in a store holding bottle of medicine, vitamin or dietary supplement
    Fact #7: It can be dangerous to treat erectile dysfunction yourself.
    For your health and safety, don’t take anything for ED without checking with your doctor first. An investigation of supplements sold online to treat ED revealed some scary findings, as reported by the Food and Drug Administration. About one-third of ED supplements contained potentially harmful and unlisted ingredients. Supplements can also cause side effects and drug interactions. If you are interested in a supplement, talk with your doctor first. Then, order it through a local pharmacy. 
  • Man with tooth brush
    Fact #8: There’s a possible link with your dental health.
    Several studies suggest that men with periodontal disease or chronic gum disease are more likely than those with healthy teeth and gums to have ED. In other words, gum disease may be a risk factor for ED. Inflammation is the likely link between the two. Research also suggests that dental health plays a role in preventing ED. So see your dentist regularly and practice good oral hygiene.
     
  • Young doctor with senior patient
    Fact #9: It could signal something else is wrong.
    ED is often the first warning sign of more serious health problems, like heart disease and diabetes. That makes it especially important to see your doctor to find out what is causing your ED. If another medical condition is to blame, treating it can improve your overall health—and your sexual function.
     
9 Surprising Facts About Erectile Dysfunction

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
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  2. Erectile Dysfunction. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/erectile-dysfunction/ 
  3. Erectile Dysfunction. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10035-erectile-dysfunction 
  4. Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction. National Institutes of Diabetes, Digestives and Kidney Disease.  https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts 
  5. Gerbild H., et al. (2018). Physical activity to improve erectile function: A systematic review of intervention studies. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29661646/
  6. Managing with Products and Devices. American Urological Association. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/urinary-incontinence/treatment?article=6
  7. Eltas A., et al. (2013). The effect of periodontal treatment in improving erectile dysfunction: a randomized controlled trial. J Clin Periodontol. 2013 Feb;40(2):148-54.
  8. 'All Natural' Alternatives for Erectile Dysfunction: A Risky Proposition. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/all-natural-alternatives-erectile-dysfunction-risky-proposition 
  9. Oguz F, et al. Is there a relationship between chronic periodontitis and erectile dysfunction? J Sex Medi. 2013;10(3):838-843. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23211042/ 
  10. Kim JH., et al. (2016). Mesenchymal stem cell-based gene therapy for erectile dysfunction. Int J Impot Res. 2016 May;28(3):81-7.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 20
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.