If you’re a man, and you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve experienced erectile dysfunction.
One out of two men over age 40 have had difficulty attaining and maintaining an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, doctors say. And while the numbers are smaller, even some younger men may have difficulty developing an erection.
However, more than at any other time in history, erectile dysfunction is a problem with a solution, doctors note. Medications and external and internal treatments have improved dramatically, allowing thousands of men to return to healthy sexual functioning. Likewise the stigma has decreased with public awareness.
Over the past 20 years, increased media attention, scores of television ads for medications like Viagra and Cialis and starring roles in movies and television shows have moved erectile dysfunction out of the shadows and onto the list of common health concerns.
“If men have become aware of their treatment options, they’re aware it’s not just them,” said Dr. Lawrence Hakim, chairman of the department of urology and head of the Section of Sexual Dysfunction at Cleveland Clinic Florida.
Hakim cautions men to see a doctor. Erectile dysfunction is caused by a lack of adequate blood flow, he said, which can be an indicator of a potentially life-threatening health problem.
“Erectile dysfunction is a marker. It can be the first sign of other underlying disease,’’ Hakim said. “A guy starts having erection problems not realizing why… two years later he has a heart attack.”
The problem can result from a number of health issues, said Dr. Bruce Kava, chief of urology service at the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center and associate professor of clinical urology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“The primary causes we see for people with erectile dysfunction are related to the vascular system … underlying heart disease, medications, surgeries, diabetes, high blood pressure,” Kava said.
Surgeries for prostate cancer, bladder and certain colorectal cancers may result in erectile dysfunction, he added.
While the problem primarily affects older men, Hakim said, he sees men from their teens into their 90s. In younger men, the problem is often a sports injury.
“Any contact sport you can think of whether it’s basketball, hockey, baseball, football, any type of trauma to the penis or scrotum … can have a significant and often permanent effect on their ability to attain and maintain an erection,” he said. Cycling as a sport can also cause erectile dysfunction, he said.
Regardless of age or cause, treatment options are the same, depending on the individual.
Pills like Viagra, now known as simply “the little blue pill,” Cialis and Levitra remain popular and effective treatments for some men. They vary in how long they work for, how quickly they metabolize in the body and the side effects they produce.
Viagra was the first to hit the market in 1997, followed by Cialis and Levitra.
“Cialis is the longest acting one. If you take a Cialis tablet, it will still be in your system up to 36 hours later,” Hakim said, increasing spontaneity.
Though the drugs are similar, because they are different chemical compounds, the response will be slightly different. Men who have not had success with one drug, may be helped by another. For example, men who have not found Viagra to be effective are having success with Levitra, Kava said.