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As many as 30 million men in the United States have erectile dysfunction. The incidence rate increases in men with diabetes, men who smoke, and men over the age of 65.
*Source: Minnesota Men’s Health Center

Erectile Dysfunction Overview

Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, describes a man’s inability to obtain and maintain an erection firm enough for intercourse. This condition is the most common sexual disorder among men. Although an occasional inability to achieve an erection is normal, the inability to have a successful erection four to six out of every 10 times is considered a “moderate” case, while the inability to have one zero to three time out of 10 is “severe.”

Men experiencing erectile dysfunction also report issues with anxiety, self-esteem, tension and relationships. Additionally, problems with getting or keeping an erection may be a sign of another health problem that requires treatment, such as heart disease or poorly controlled diabetes. Treatment of the underlying condition may reverse or lessen your erectile dysfunction.

Because male sexual arousal is such a complex process that involves everything from the brain to hormones to the sex organs to muscles, blood vessels and nerves, many things may contribute to erectile dysfunction. The condition has been linked to stress, high blood pressure, fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, testosterone levels, tobacco and drug use, treatments for prostate conditions and surgeries around the pelvic area.

Although discussion about erectile dysfunction can be awkward, you should discuss the matter with your WellStar physician, who can offer a range of treatments or medications that may help the condition.


Erectile dysfunction exhibits one or more of three key symptoms:

  • Trouble getting an erection
  • Problems with sustaining an erection
  • Reduced sexual desire

Also, the condition must be occurring on an on-going basis, as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection in rare or occasional situations is common.

Risk Factors

Erectile dysfunction is not a direct consequence of aging, but older men tend to exhibit symptoms more than younger men. A variety of health conditions, especially heart problems or diabetes, can increase the risk as well as tobacco, alcohol and drug use. Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Medical treatments for prostate surgery or radiation treatments for cancer
  • Injuries to nerves that can affect erections
  • Use of certain medications, such as antidepressants, high blood pressure pills or pain relievers
  • Psychological issues, such as stress, anxiety or depression
  • Prolonged bicycling (greater than 3 hours per week), which can compress nerves and restrict blood flow