Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition that can affect men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB), particularly as they age. It refers to the inability to get or maintain an erection long enough for sexual intercourse. While occasional difficulties with erections are normal, ongoing issues might indicate an underlying health concern.

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What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is a condition that impacts a person’s ability to get or maintain an erection that’s firm enough for sexual activity. Emotional and physical factors play a role in achieving and maintaining erections. Feeling relaxed, confident, and aroused is crucial. Factors like nervousness, stress, frustration, or even tiredness can contribute to ED. Additionally, lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption and substance use can have a direct impact.

ED can sometimes signal an underlying health issue. This makes it crucial to consult with a healthcare provider if you’re experiencing persistent problems with erections. Let’s discuss some common causes and types of erectile dysfunction.

Types of Erectile Dysfunction

Healthcare professionals categorize ED into several types based on its causes:

  • Vascular Erectile Dysfunction: This type involves issues with blood vessels, affecting blood flow to the penis. It’s the most common type of ED.
  • Neurogenic Erectile Dysfunction: This type occurs when nerve problems prevent signals from traveling from the brain to the penis, leading to a lack of erection. Causes might include trauma, pelvic surgery, or neurologic conditions like stroke.
  • Hormonal Erectile Dysfunction: A deficiency in testosterone or issues with thyroid hormones can lead to this type of ED.
  • Psychogenic Erectile Dysfunction: Emotional and psychological factors like stress, anxiety, or depression can cause ED.

Common Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

ED can stem from a variety of physical and emotional conditions. Let’s discuss some of the key factors that may contribute to its development:

  • Circulatory System Issues: Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and atherosclerosis can impact blood flow to the penis, leading to ED.
  • Nervous System Disorders: Neurological conditions that affect nerve signaling can lead to ED.
  • Endocrine System Problems: Hormonal imbalances, including low testosterone, can play a role.
  • Medications and Substances: Certain medications, including antidepressants and blood pressure drugs, may list ED as a potential side effect. Substance use, including alcohol and drugs, can also contribute.
  • Emotional and Psychological Conditions: Depression, anxiety, and stress are significant contributors to ED.

Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

Symptoms of ED can vary but generally involve difficulties with erections. Here are some common signs:

  • Inability to get an erection.
  • Difficulty maintaining an erection during sexual intercourse.
  • Needing extra stimulation to maintain an erection.
  • Losing an erection prematurely.

Diagnosing Erectile Dysfunction

A healthcare provider can help diagnose ED and identify its underlying cause. This process involves reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical examination, and asking questions about your personal and sexual history. These questions might be uncomfortable, but they are essential to determining the cause of ED.

Depending on the suspected cause, additional tests may be ordered. These could include blood tests, urinalysis, penile Doppler ultrasound, or other diagnostic methods.

Treatment Options for Erectile Dysfunction

Treatment for ED depends on the underlying cause. Let’s discuss some common approaches to managing ED:

  • Lifestyle Changes: Cardiovascular exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption can positively impact ED.
  • Medications: Oral medications like sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), or vardenafil (Levitra®) are commonly prescribed to increase blood flow to the penis.
  • Injectable Medications: In some cases, medications that are injected directly into the penis may be recommended.
  • Vacuum Constriction Devices (Penis Pumps): These devices help create an erection by drawing blood into the penis.
  • Testosterone Replacement Therapy: If hormonal imbalance is a cause of ED, testosterone therapy might be suggested.
  • Penile Implants: This surgical option involves inserting a device into the penis to create an erection.

Preventing Erectile Dysfunction

Lifestyle changes can play a significant role in reducing the risk of developing ED. Let’s discuss some preventive measures:

  • Regular cardiovascular exercise.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Reducing or eliminating smoking.
  • Managing stress and anxiety.
  • Eating a balanced diet with low saturated fats.

Living with Erectile Dysfunction

Living with ED can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that many treatment options are available. Open communication with your partner and healthcare provider is crucial. If you suspect you have ED, don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. If you’re taking medication for ED and experience a painful erection lasting more than two to four hours, seek immediate medical attention, as this could indicate priapism, a serious condition requiring emergency treatment.


Erectile dysfunction is a common condition, especially as people age. While it can cause embarrassment and stress, it’s important to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider to identify underlying causes and appropriate treatment options. By making lifestyle changes and seeking medical advice, you can improve your quality of life and manage ED effectively.