Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/27/2021
It probably happens to every man at some point in his life, though none wants to admit it.
Sometimes it happens when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious. Maybe you’re exhausted after a long day or you simply aren’t in the mood. Common as it may be, it can be embarrassing, frustrating, and even concerning.
We’re talking about erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction is a common concern for men of all ages, though it tends to affect older men more often than younger men. It typically results from conditions that develop gradually, but if you’re experiencing sudden erectile dysfunction we don’t blame you for wanting to get to the bottom of it right away.
Below, we’ve covered the subject of erectile dysfunction in depth to help you learn what it is and what causes it to come on suddenly. You’ll also receive a list of ways to overcome sudden erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction or ED is a condition in which a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. This condition can be either short-term or long-term, and it may worsen with age, though it is not considered a normal part of aging.
You may have erectile dysfunction if you:
Are unable to achieve an erection at any time
Are able to achieve an erection sometimes, but not every time you want to
Are able to achieve an erection but it is not firm enough for satisfactory sex
Are able to achieve an erection but are unable to maintain it long enough for fulfilling sex
Though erectile dysfunction is certainly a concern for the men who experience it, it is often treatable. Treating erectile dysfunction involves identifying the underlying cause of your sexual dysfunction which is something you should discuss with your primary care physician.
Erectile dysfunction is one of the most common sexual health issues reported by men to their healthcare providers. Though it may not be immediately life-threatening, it can be frustrating and, in some cases, ED is a symptom of an underlying health problem.
This concern affects as many as 30 million men in the United States and it becomes more common with increased age. ED affects approximately 10 percent of men for each decade of life after age forty.
Any man can develop erectile dysfunction at any time, but you are more likely to develop ED if you have an underlying physical or mental health issue, take certain medications, have certain health-related factors (like smoking or obesity), or if you are over a certain age.
An erection occurs when sexual arousal triggers an increase in blood flow to the penis.
As blood flow increases, the chambers in the penis (the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum) dilate and become filled with blood, this causes the outflow veins to be compressed thus blocking the blood from leaving the penis.
As a result, the penis becomes swollen and rigid.
Erectile dysfunction is a problem that typically develops over time, but it can occur suddenly and unexpectedly as well.
In cases that develop gradually, it is often a circulatory or nervous system issue. In cases of sudden sexual dysfunction, however, it is more likely related to a side effect of medication or some kind of psychological issue.
Here are some of the potential causes for erectile dysfunction:
Vascular issues (like atherosclerosis)
Metabolic disease (like type 2 diabetes)
Injury to the penis, prostate, or bladder
Treatments for prostate cancer
Blood pressure medications
Sedatives, appetite suppressants, and antidepressants
Anxiety or depression
Guilt or fear related to sex
Smoking or drug use
Excessive alcohol consumption
Being overweight or sedentary
Having COVID-19 may also cause erectile dysfunction.
Though erectile dysfunction may not be a debilitating or life-threatening condition, that isn’t to say it isn’t serious.
Untreated ED can exacerbate feelings of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem — it can also have a negative impact on your sex life and your intimate relationships. If you’re experiencing sudden ED, don’t delay in speaking to your physician.
Every man is different and so is every case of erectile dysfunction. In talking to your healthcare professional about your concerns, you may find that your ED is linked to more than one underlying cause. In many cases, it takes a combination of multiple treatment options to find a consistent and satisfactory solution.
Here are some of the things you might try to overcome your erectile dysfunction:
Smoking, heavy drinking, and being overweight are top contributors to erectile dysfunction. In reducing your tobacco and alcohol use while making healthy improvements to your diet and activity level, you may see your erectile function improve.
There may not be a specific diet for the treatment of ED, but a diet designed to support cardiovascular health may help. Research has shown a diet rich in natural foods like lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables was associated with a lower risk of erectile dysfunction.
Regular exercise has also shown positive effects for men with erectile dysfunction. In a 2018 review, researchers explored the benefits of exercise for vascular erectile dysfunction. The researchers concluded that 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per week could decrease erectile problems in men.
Obesity is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction, so if you’re overweight you may want to consider losing a few pounds. Being overweight or obese puts a great deal of stress on the body and it can contribute to circulatory problems which may exacerbate issues with ED.
Aside from vascular issues related to obesity, having a high waist circumference has been linked to a higher risk of erectile dysfunction. Excess body fat can also interfere with hormone levels which could affect your sexual function.
Erectile dysfunction is a condition that often develops slowly over time related to underlying issues affecting the nervous system, circulatory system, or other systems in the body. Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and Peyronie’s disease can all contribute to erectile dysfunction.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions or if you suspect an underlying health problem could be at play.
If you’re experiencing sudden erectile dysfunction, ask yourself if you’ve made any recent changes to your medication. Certain medications — particularly those for diabetes or heart conditions — are a risk factor for erectile dysfunction. If you suspect your medications are contributing to your ED, talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting your dosage or making a switch.
Talking to your healthcare provider about current medications you’re on is the first step, but if you’re able to rule out medications as a potential cause for sudden ED, you may want to consider medication as an option for treatment.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medications for the treatment of ED. Drugs like sildenafil (generic Viagra, or Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), and vardenafil (Levitra®) work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the penis and increasing blood flow during sexual stimulation. If you have low testosterone, testosterone replacement therapy could also help.
Many cases of erectile dysfunction are, at least in part, linked to psychological and emotional issues. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, or if you experience stress related to sex, it may help to speak to a licensed therapist. Your therapist can help you identify and work through mental and emotional issues that may be contributing to your ED.
It may also help to bring your partner in to some of your counseling sessions so the two of you can learn how to work through the issue together. Counseling is often recommended for patients who are also undergoing treatment for physical/medical causes of ED.
If you have concerns about your sexual health or performance, talk to your primary care physician. Erectile dysfunction and other sexual health concerns are often treatable, but the first step is diagnosing the underlying cause.
Once you have a better understanding of the factors contributing to your ED, you can work with your physician to find the right treatment option for you.
Whatever treatment method you choose, you should also communicate with your partner.
It can be difficult to talk about sex with a partner, especially when it involves a potentially embarrassing subject like ED, but you may find that the simple act of opening up to your partner helps relieve some of the stress and anxiety you’ve been feeling. Together, you can work toward a more enjoyable and satisfying sexual experience for the both of you.