Erectile dysfunction (ED)—also known as impotence—is a condition where a man has difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection. It is a condition that affects at least 30 million men to some degree. It is most common in men 40 years and older, but experts believe statistics regarding erectile dysfunction are low because many men do not report the condition to their doctor.

Erectile dysfunction can lead to relationship problems, as well as depression and distress in men. It can be a symptom of larger health problems, particularly cardiovascular diseases. Other factors that can increase the risk of ED include:

  • smoking tobacco
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • obesity
  • an inactive lifestyle

Diagnosing ED

In diagnosing erectile dysfunction, a doctor will examine a man's sexual, medical, or psychosocial history to determine possible sources of the dysfunction—side effects of medication, substance abuse, current sexual practices, or other special circumstances.

A physical examination for erectile dysfunction normally doesn't differ much from a standard physical examination from a doctor. The doctor will check for abnormalities in the testicles and other deformities, as well as the presence of other problems that could lead to erectile dysfunction:

  • low blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • high cholesterol
  • heart disease
  • diabetes
  • depression

A rectal exam may also be needed to check the prostate. Blood tests may also be done.

Treating ED

A doctor will most likely tell a patient with erectile dysfunction to curb bad habits, including smoking and excessive alcohol or caffeine consumption, if applicable.

Erectile dysfunction is treated with medications such those that block PDE-5—an enzyme that affects erections. Those medications include Viagra or Cialis, apomorphine, or the herb yohimbine. Other less common treatments include prostheses, surgery, and injections to promote blood flow to the penis.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve blood flow to the penis and may be a useful adjunct to treatments established by your physician.

Visit the Erectile Dysfunction Learning Center for more information.