Erection dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common male sexual health conditions. When caused by chronic illness or other medical conditions, ED may be a chronic problem. However, in many cases, it’s temporary.

Keep reading to find out what may lead to temporary ED. We’ll also look at potential treatment options and how to talk to your doctor about this condition.

Occasionally having trouble getting an erection isn’t always a cause for concern. Many men experience erection problems at some point in their lives, and there are lots of things that might cause this.

Situational ED

Situational ED is a form of ED that occurs only during certain circumstances. For example, some men may have trouble maintaining an erection with a partner but not during masturbation.

It’s often caused by psychological factors, such as nervousness or performance anxiety. In these cases, targeting the psychological cause is often the best treatment option.

Alcohol and drug use can also lead to situational ED.

Temporary ED

ED can be caused by certain lifestyle factors. In these cases, ED is usually temporary and improves once lifestyle changes are made. Temporary ED can be caused by the following:

  • Smoking, poor diet, physical inactivity, and being overweight or having obesity. One of the most important molecules required for you to get an erection is nitric oxide (NO). NO is a vasodilator, meaning that it helps your blood vessels relax, which is necessary for an erection. Chronic inflammation — which can be caused by smoking, eating a poor diet, and having more weight — can lead to problems with your blood vessel function and decrease the availability of this molecule.
  • Chronic stress. When you’re stressed, your body increases its production of the hormone epinephrine. Elevated epinephrine levels make it difficult for the muscles and blood vessels in the penis to relax. ED often resolves when the cause of the stress or anxiety is dealt with.
  • Metabolic syndrome. Research shows that there are several ways metabolic syndrome can lead to ED, such as low testosterone levels and atherosclerosis. Depending on the cause, ED may be treatable and temporary.

ED is difficult to reverse if it’s caused by certain physical problems. Some conditions, such as diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and multiple sclerosis, may affect nerves that affect the penis. The following conditions are potential causes of long-term erectile dysfunction:

Many times, ED caused by these conditions is still manageable with medications, injections, or other therapies.

Certain prescription medications, such as those for high blood pressure or depression, can also cause ED. Whether this is a short- or long-term cause of ED depends on how long you’ve been taking the medications.

Experiencing occasional ED is normal. However, ED may be a concern if it’s causing regular disruptions to your sex life.

The best way to find out the underlying cause of your ED is to talk to your doctor. They can diagnose the cause of ED by reviewing your medical and sexual history and asking about substance use and psychological stress.

If you still have erections when you first wake up in the morning, the cause of ED is probably more psychological rather than physical. There may be more than one cause of ED happening at the same time.

Your doctor may also recommend blood tests and give you a physical exam to rule out nerve damage or other conditions.

Erectile dysfunction can often improve with proper treatment. A 2014 study following 810 men found that 29 percent of the men with erectile dysfunction had improved symptoms after 5 years.

The following are potential treatment options for temporary ED:

  • Taking medications. Oral medications are often the first-line treatment for ED.
  • Quitting smoking. Smoking can cause damage to your blood vessels and reduce blow flow to your penis.
  • Reducing alcohol consumption. Heavy alcohol consumption can cause ED. In these cases, ED may get better if you lower how much you drink.
  • Improving diet. Research has found that 79 percent of people with ED have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25. Eating a healthy diet may help you lose weight and improve ED.
  • Exercising. One review published in 2018 found that 160 minutes of weekly exercise for 6 months helped decrease ED caused by cardiovascular disease, lack of physical activity, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and obesity.
  • Taking supplements. Some supplements, such as Panax ginseng, Rhodiola rosea, yohimbe, and L-arginine, may help with symptoms of ED. However, the efficacy of many of these supplements is still debatable. Always talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
  • Destressing. Stress and anxiety increase levels of hormones that can make it more difficult for the blood vessels and muscles in your penis to relax. Symptoms of ED often resolve when the cause of stress is addressed.
  • Trying talk therapy. Undergoing sex therapy, psychotherapy, or relationship therapy may help you deal with ED caused by psychological factors.
  • Undergoing testosterone replacement therapy. You may benefit from testosterone replacement therapy if your erectile dysfunction is caused by a hormonal imbalance.

Many men feel embarrassed about talking with their doctor about ED. However, if you’re experiencing ED, your doctor can help you find the best treatment option.

Furthermore, letting your doctor know what’s going on is important, as ED is often a symptom of a more serious medical condition. Your doctor can test you for various related conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.

Here are some ways you can make a conversation with your doctor easier:

  • Plan what you’re going to say in advance.
  • Brainstorm a list of potential questions.
  • Make a list of your symptoms and when you experienced them.

ED itself isn’t life threatening, and in some cases, it’s temporary. Sometimes, however, it can be a symptom of a more serious health condition.

Talk to your doctor to figure out the underlying cause and start a treatment plan. You can also work on improving lifestyle habits, such as quitting smoking, exercising, and eating well.