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Frequently Asked Questions About Erectile Dysfunction


Landon Trost, MD

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Treatment Options for Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is an early indicator of a more serious medical condition like cardiovascular disease.  
doctor talking to patient

While erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an embarrassing condition for men to seek treatment for, it should not be. In fact, often times erectile dysfunction serves as a warning sign of a more serious cardiovascular problem. Urologist Landon Trost, MD, discusses the most common questions he hears about ED.

1. Q: What is erectile dysfunction?

A: Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for intercourse. Typically, there are no other telling symptoms that lead up to ED, so a change in the state of the erection is usually the only sign of its onset. Sometimes, it’s just a one-time episode, with normal erectile function returning soon after. It’s really only considered erectile dysfunction if it becomes a chronic issue.

Erectile dysfunction affects many men, but since it’s rarely talked about, there are a lot of myths floating around. Can you tell fact from fiction?

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2. Q: What’s the best way to bring up erectile dysfunction with a doctor?

A: Talking about ED can be understandably embarrassing, but as a urologist, I talk about it on a daily basis. In fact, even when my wife and I go out to dinner with friends, it seems to be a normal topic of conversation.

As difficult as it may seem to you, it’s not weird for us at all. A one-time occurrence may not be an issue, but after at least a few instances of a failed erection, you should bring it up with a doctor. Often, ED is an initial warning sign for cardiovascular disease, which means the sooner you get your ED checked out, the sooner we can address the potential other issues (and hopefully cure your ED in the process).

So rather than bringing it up in passing at the end of an appointment, be sure to have another appointment dedicated only to this issue. That way we’ll have the time to rule out other health issues and find the best treatment.

3. Q: What are the treatment options?

A: There are a number of treatment options available, the most common of which is oral medication -- you’ve probably heard of a few of these already. They are taken on an as-needed basis, 30 to 60 minutes before sexual activity.

For those who are unsuccessful in taking oral medications or don’t meet the health requirements, there are intraurethral suppositories and injectables. Both also are taken as needed. Suppositories involve inserting a pellet into the urethra through the tip of the penis, while injectables are injected with a needle into the base of the penis. As they are both local treatments, they can reduce the risk of unwanted side effects. Additionally, there are vacuum devices, which go directly over the penis and pull out air, causing blood to rush into the penis because of the created vacuum.

Though used less often, surgery is also an option. This involves implanting a penile prosthesis along with a manual pump to achieve an erection. Since it is a permanent procedure, be aware that a natural erection can never be achieved again. Of course, most of my patients who opt for the procedure say they wouldn’t get the procedure if they were achieving a natural erection anyway.

Before any medical treatments are administered, though, we recommend some shifts in your lifestyle, which include exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating right. ED can stem from stress, inactivity, smoking and drinking, depression, and any other number of mental and physical factors that can be addressed through a healthier lifestyle.

4. Q: How often is ED a sign of something more serious?

A: Unfortunately, ED is most often a sign of something more serious. Because obtaining an erection involves healthy blood flow, erectile dysfunction often means that cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol could be the culprit.

THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.

Landon Trost, MD

Landon Trost, MD, is an assistant professor in the department of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and is the current head of Andrology and Male Infertility. In addition to writing several publications on the topic, he was involved in writing the core curriculum for the American Urological Association for male hypogonadism and male infertility. View his Healthgrades profile >

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Publish Date: Feb 4, 2016

© 2017 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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