Erectile Dysfunction Complications

Written by the Healthline Editorial Team | Published on July 22, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD on July 22, 2014

Complications of Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a sexual health problem. It does not generally cause other, physical health problems. However, ED may be a sign of potentially significant underlying conditions. Left untreated, these could have a substantial impact on your health. Therefore, it is important to discuss any symptoms of ED with your doctor.

Although ED does not cause physical health problems, it can cause problems in relationships, such as:

  • unhappiness with your sex life
  • problems getting your partner pregnant
  • other marital or relationship difficulties

It can also cause psychological problems, such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • decreased self-esteem
  • stress

Complications of Erectile Dysfunction Treatment

ED itself does not cause physical complications. However, treatments for ED may have potential side effects or complications.  Fortunately, many treatments are available. Talk to your doctor about available treatment options and their side effects to determine which course of treatment is best—and safest—for you.

Side Effects of Erectile Dysfunction Medications

ED medications may cause side effects or be dangerous to your health. It is important to talk to your doctor about all potential side effects before starting a new medication.

Drugs such as Viagra are known as phosphodiesterase (PDE) inhibitors. These drugs treat ED by enhancing the effects of a naturally occurring chemical within the body called nitric oxide. This chemical relaxes muscles in the penis and increases blood flow. However, this type of drug can cause severe or possibly life-threatening complications when combined with other medications.  

PDE inhibitors should not be used by men who take medications including nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, which is often prescribed to treat angina (chest pain). They should be used with caution by men who use blood thinning medications or alpha blockers. Alpha blockers are used to treat high blood pressure or an enlarged prostate.  

Interactions between PDE inhibitors and these drugs can cause a dangerous drop in blood pressure. PDE inhibitors can also cause:

  • nasal congestion
  • headache
  • vision and hearing problems
  • stomach upset

If you have serious side effects, such as vision or hearing loss, tell your doctor immediately.

Additionally, the Mayo Clinic states that this type of drug can be dangerous for certain men. If you have one or more of the following conditions, PDE inhibitors may not work, or can cause serious side effects: 

  • a history of heart disease
  • uncontrolled diabetes
  • past or recent stroke
  • very low or very high blood pressure

Side Effects of Injections and Suppositories

Penile injections and suppositories can be used to stimulate erections in men with ED. Both methods can be self-administered, and are very effective. However, they can have side effects, including:

  • priapism (an erection that will not subside)
  • scarring
  • bleeding
  • pain

If you have an erection that lasts longer than four hours, talk to your doctor. It may need to be surgically drained. A prolonged erection can cause permanent damage to your penis.

Side Effects of Erectile Dysfunction Surgery

If medications do not work to correct or treat ED, your doctor may recommend surgery. This may involve penile implants, which involves placing inflatable, semi-rigid rods within the penis, or surgery to repair leaking or obstructed blood vessels within the penis. Surgery for ED has the same potential complications as other types of surgery. These include:

  • infection
  • bleeding
  • reactions to anesthesia or other medication

There are also specific risks associated with ED surgery.

Surgery to repair blood vessels may not be effective. Efficacy may be particularly poor in older men with a large amount of blockage in their blood vessels.  According to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC), this type of surgery is most useful in younger men who have had a groin injury. Such injuries usually cause a single blockage that is more treatable.

Implants can malfunction and need replacement. Additionally, penile implants destroy the corpus cavernosa in the penis. These are the chambers that usually fill with blood during an erection. Once implants are placed, they will always be needed for an erection.

Long-Term Outlook of Erectile Dysfunction Treatment

In general, the long term outlook for men with ED is very good. There are a wide variety of treatments for ED. Most men will be able to find a treatment that works well for them.

When trying to find the best ED treatment, it is important to talk to your doctor on a regular basis. Not all treatments will work for all men. However, finding the right treatment for ED can do wonders for restoring your sex life. 

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