Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition in which you may find it difficult or impossible to develop and/or maintain an erection.
Although ED is often associated with older men, it can affect men of all ages. A variety of factors can contribute to erectile dysfunction, ranging from your physical health to psychological issues related to your sexual performance.
Currently, the most effective treatment options for erectile dysfunction are medications such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), avanafil (Stendra®) and others.
These ed medications are only available with a valid prescription, meaning you’ll need to have your erectile dysfunction diagnosed by a healthcare provider before you purchase and use them.
Below, we’ve explained the various methods that medical professionals use to diagnose erectile dysfunction, from simple questions to tests. We’ve also listed the treatments that are available if you’re affected by ED and want to take action.
Erectile Dysfunction: The Basics
- Erectile dysfunction is a common issue that can affect men of all ages. Data shows that about 30 million men are affected by ED in the United States alone.
- Most of the time, a medical professional can diagnose ED by asking you a few questions about your erectile health and sexual performance, without any need for blood testing or other procedures.
- If the cause of your ED isn’t obvious, your healthcare provider may suggest undergoing testing to see if you have diabetes, atherosclerosis or another health problem that may cause or worsen ED.
- Although they aren’t used often, tests like the nocturnal erection test or intracavernosal injection test can help to determine if you’re physically capable of getting an erection.
- If you’re diagnosed with ED, your healthcare provider will typically prescribe medication to improve your erectile health. Several different medications are used to treat ED, most of which work quickly and provide relief for several hours at a time.
- In addition to using medication, you may need to make certain changes to your lifestyle and habits to improve your erectile function and sexual health.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is a condition that affects your ability to get and maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have satisfying penetrative sex.
Although many people think of erectile dysfunction as simply not being able to get an erection, the reality is that ED can vary in severity. You may have ED if you:
- Can’t develop an erection when you want to have sex or masturbate.
- Can occasionally get an erection, but not consistently enough to have sex when you feel sexually aroused.
- Can get an erection, but find it difficult or impossible to maintain it for long enough to have satisfying, pleasurable sex.
Erectile dysfunction is sometimes referred to as impotence. Although it can be a frustrating and embarrassing condition to deal with, it’s far from uncommon and can affect men of all ages and backgrounds.
How Is Erectile Dysfunction Diagnosed?
Medical professionals use a variety of methods to diagnose erectile dysfunction and determine the most effective treatment option for you.
If you think that you have erectile dysfunction, it’s important to talk to a professional to receive an accurate diagnosis. You can do this by:
- Talking to your regular healthcare provider
- Scheduling an appointment with a specialist, such as a urologist
- Talking to a healthcare provider about ED online
When you talk to a healthcare provider about ED, they’ll likely ask you certain questions about your sexual and health history. You may need to tell them:
- How long you’ve been experiencing ED symptoms and how frequently these symptoms affect you
- How confident you feel about your ability to get and maintain an erection during sex or masturbation
- How often you can maintain your erection during penetrative sex
- How often you’re able to enjoy satisfying, fulfilling sex with your partner
- Whether or not you frequently wake up with an erection (morning wood)
- If you currently use, or have recently used, any medications that may affect your erectile health and/or sexual performance
- If you currently use, or have recently used, any illicit drugs
- If you smoke cigarettes, use other tobacco products or drink alcohol frequently
- If you have any underlying conditions that may affect your cardiovascular health
- If you’ve ever undergone surgery that may affect your blood flow or nerve function
It’s important that you provide accurate, detailed information to your healthcare provider, even if it initially feels embarrassing to talk about your erections and sexual performance.
Remember that your healthcare provider’s goal is to provide an accurate diagnosis and helpful, effective treatment.
The more information you can provide, the better they’ll be able to suggest an effective treatment that improves your erections and sexual performance.
Tests for Erectile Dysfunction
Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose you with erectile dysfunction based solely on the information you provide.
However, in some cases, you may need to take certain tests to provide more information to your healthcare provider.
These tests may reveal the potential causes of your erectile dysfunction, or simply provide more information about your erectile health and sexual performance.
Several different tests are used to diagnose erectile dysfunction. These include:
- Blood tests. Your healthcare provider may request a blood sample for testing. This will be sent to a lab, where it will be analyzed for any signs of underlying medical problems that may affect your erectile health.
Blood testing can often reveal treatable health issues that may contribute to ED, such as atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), chronic kidney disease, diabetes and hormonal health issues.
- Ultrasound scan. If your healthcare provider suspects that your ED is related to a blood flow issue, they may suggest that you undergo an ultrasound scan to analyze the flow of blood into and out of the erectile tissue of your penis.
The type of test is performed using a handheld ultrasound device. You may need to use medication before this test to ensure that you can develop an erection.
- Intracavernosal injection (injection test). This type of test involves injecting your penis with a medication to see if it’s possible for you to get an erection. A medical professional may monitor how firm your erection is and how long it lasts.
This type of test may reveal physical health issues that prevent you from developing and maintaining an erection.
- Nocturnal erection test. Often referred to as a nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test, this test involves wearing a device around your penis while you sleep to check if you can develop an erection during the nighttime.
It’s common to get three to five erections per night. This type of test can help to provide information about whether your ED is caused by a physical or psychological issue.
Although it’s far from perfect, you can carry out a basic version of this test at home using paper or postage stamps by following the instructions in our guide to self-testing for ED.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Numerous different factors can contribute to and cause erectile dysfunction, including physical health issues, psychological issues, medications and habits.
When diagnosing ED, it’s important to identify the most likely cause. If your ED is caused by an underlying physical or psychological health problem, your healthcare provider may recommend medication or lifestyle changes to treat your condition and improve your erectile health.
Common physical causes of erectile dysfunction can include diabetes, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), hypertension (high blood pressure), multiple sclerosis, chronic kidney disease, injuries from surgical procedures and conditions that affect your penis, such as Peyronie’s disease.
Common psychological causes of erectile dysfunction include depression, concerns about your sexual performance, anxiety, stress and guilt about having sex.
Medications that may cause erectile dysfunction include antidepressants, antiandrogens, high blood pressure treatments, tranquilizers, ulcer medications and medications that reduce your appetite.
Finally, habits that can contribute to erectile dysfunction include being physically inactive and/or overweight, smoking, illicit drug use and excessive alcohol consumption.
How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable. Most of the time, treatment involves using ED medications that increase blood flow to your penis and make it easier to develop and maintain an erection.
To treat ED, your healthcare provider may recommend the following approaches:
- Using ED medication. Medications like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra) can improve your erectile function and make it easier to get and stay hard when you’re sexually aroused.
We offer several FDA-approved ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. You can learn more about how these medications work in our detailed guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments.
- Seeking help for psychological issues. If a psychological factor may be causing you to experience ED, your healthcare provider may suggest meeting with a mental health professional for counseling or psychotherapy.
Our guide to the psychological causes of ED goes into more detail about how anxiety, depression and other common disorders can lead to sexual performance issues.
- Treating any underlying health conditions. If your ED is related to an underlying health condition, such as high blood pressure or clogged arteries, your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to treat the underlying condition.
Make sure to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions when using any prescription medications.
- Making changes to your lifestyle. Your healthcare provider may suggest making certain changes to your lifestyle, such as exercising more frequently, losing weight, quitting smoking or reducing your alcohol consumption.
We’ve gone into more detail about how making lifestyle changes can enhance your sexual performance in our guide to naturally protecting your erection.
If you think you may have ED, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider. Most of the time, erectile dysfunction can be diagnosed by providing information about your health and sexual performance without any need for blood tests or other diagnostic procedures.
If your healthcare provider suspects that an underlying health issue might be causing your ED, they may suggest that you take additional tests to work out the most effective way to treat your symptoms and improve your erectile health.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.