Though it can feel isolating, erectile dysfunction (ED) isn’t rare. According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, more than 18 million American men are affected by erectile dysfunction. Some estimates put the number at almost double that.
Almost all men will experience some form of ED during their lifetimes. ED becomes more common with age, but it isn’t natural. That is, ED isn’t something that should be ignored. In most cases, it can be treated.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection. ED often prevents a man from having adequate sexual function.
Two types of ED are common: Acute, or occasional, ED is often a minor problem. Many men will experience this at some point in their lives, and it often resolves itself on its own. However, chronic ED is a complex problem, involving many parts of the body, including the nervous system, blood vessels, hormones, and emotions. Chronic ED requires treatment.
Several conditions can contribute to the development of ED. These causes include:
- anxiety and stress
- damage to the pelvic area
- enlarged prostate
- prostate cancer
- nerve damage
- heart disease
Lifestyle issues can also contribute to ED. These include:
- certain medications or drugs
- tobacco use
- excessive alcohol consumption or substance abuse
- sedentary lifestyle
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved a cream that can treat ED yet. However, researchers are studying potential treatments.
For the last decade, pharmaceutical companies have been testing and developing topical creams that contain alprostadil. Alprostadil is currently prescribed in the U.S. as an injection or as a penile suppository to treat ED. Vitaros, a cream formulation of alprostadil, is approved in Canada and Europe. If the medicine proves to be safe and effective, the FDA could approve it as a treatment for ED in the future.
The amino acid L-arginine is sometimes used as an alternative treatment for ED. Arginine is a vasodilator—it helps increase blood flow in the body. Some over-the-counter creams that promise to treat ED contain arginine. Side effects may include diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. Men who take Viagra, nitrates, or medication for hypertension should not use arginine creams.
Some arginine creams are used to treat sexual problems for women, too.
In some cases, you may be able to use a combination of ED treatments. Men using ED medications run the risk of experiencing serious side effects, including prolonged erections. These can be serious and require medical attention to reverse. For that reason, you should talk with your doctor before using more than one treatment or beginning a new treatment. Combining ED treatments should only be done under physician supervision and with caution.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns men against purchasing supplements and creams that promise to treat ED. Studies have shown that these drugs can contain prescription medicines or other harmful ingredients. In most cases, these ingredients are not disclosed on the products’ packaging. These undisclosed ingredients might cause severe side effects or interactions. Consult your doctor before purchasing any over-the-counter or online ED treatments.
If you are experiencing difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection, make an appointment to see your doctor. Treatments for ED are very successful for most men, so the sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you will be able to return to normal sexual function. In addition, finding a cause for your ED may help your doctor diagnose and treat an underlying health problem.
You don’t have to suffer from ED. Your doctor can help you find the right treatment.