Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction (ED), is the inability to get or keep an erection. It can happen to people with penises at any age and is never considered a normal finding.

The risk of ED can increase with age, but age doesn’t cause ED. Rather, it’s caused by underlying problems. Certain medical conditions, medications, trauma, and outside influences can all contribute to ED.

The main symptom of ED is not being able to get or keep an erection. This is temporary in most cases. But ED can have a negative effect on your sex life if you’re unable to maintain an erection long enough to continue sexual intercourse.

Psychological symptoms may occur if you think you’re not satisfying your partner. You may feel low self-esteem or depression. These can make the symptoms of ED more disruptive.

In some cases, an underlying medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure can cause ED. The symptoms of that condition may be present along with those of ED.

All people with penises will experience ED at some point in their life from either a physical cause or a psychological cause (or sometimes both).

Common causes of ED include:

ED can affect younger people with penises. But it’s more prevalent for those who are middle-aged or older. Researchers believe stress plays a major role in age-related ED.

One of the most common age-related causes of ED is atherosclerosis. This condition is caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries. This makes it difficult for blood to flow to the rest of the body, and the lack of blood flow to the penis can cause ED.

This is why ED is considered a possible early sign of atherosclerosis in people with penises.

Other physical causes for ED as you get older include:

Aside from physical causes, some psychological issues can lead to ED in middle-aged and older people with penises, including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • relationship problems

Your doctor may be able to diagnose ED by taking a medical history and performing a physical examination.

Here are a couple of things to talk to your doctor about when you go in for an ED diagnosis:

  • Discuss any medical conditions that you may have with your doctor. Sharing your medical history with your doctor can help them determine the cause of your ED.
  • Let your doctor know if you’re taking any medication. Tell them the name of the medication, how much you take, and when you began taking it. Notify your doctor if you first experienced impotence after taking a certain medication.

During your physical, your doctor will visually inspect your penis for any external causes of ED, including trauma or lesions from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

If your doctor suspects there’s an underlying cause to your condition, they may order a blood test to check your blood glucose levels. This can show them if diabetes might be a cause.

Other tests your doctor may order include:

  • blood tests to check for low testosterone levels, lipid levels, and other conditions
  • ECG (electrocardiogram) to detect any heart issues
  • ultrasound to look for problems with blood flow
  • urine test to determine blood sugar levels

Once the underlying cause for ED is treated, the symptoms usually go away on their own.

If you need medication for ED, your doctor will discuss which one’s right for you, including:

These medications are designed to help you achieve or maintain an erection. You may not be able to take these medications if you have a medical condition like heart disease or are taking medications that may interact with these ED medications.

Your doctor may suggest other treatment options if you can’t take oral medications for ED.

One alternative is the use of mechanical aids like penis pumps or a penile implant. Your doctor can explain how to use these devices.

ED can also result from lifestyle choices. In these cases, consider making some lifestyle changes, including:

  • quitting smoking
  • avoiding the use of certain drugs such as cocaine and heroin
  • drinking less alcohol
  • getting regular exercise (about three times per week)
  • maintaining a healthy weight

In addition, these lifestyle changes can lower your risk of other health issues as well as treat ED.

Stress relief through meditation or therapy can also help treat ED caused by stress. Plenty of sleep and exercise may help reverse stress-related ED.

ED is a common condition that can affect you at any age, and it can be resolved with a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatments.

Talk to your doctor if you’re suddenly experiencing the symptoms of ED, especially if you’ve recently made any lifestyle changes or had any injuries, or if you’re concerned about it as you get older.