'Getting Up' to 'Get Down'

Treating erectile dysfunction

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Hey, guys: have you had trouble 'getting it up' when you and your lover are trying to 'get down'? Having erection problems once or twice is not a big deal.

But if erectile dysfunction (impotence) is continually getting in the way of your sex life, you may want to start looking for ways to revitalize your limp member.

While erectile dysfunction is not life-threatening by any means, it can lead to stress, cause relationship problems, or lower your self-esteem. Your erection troubles may also be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as diabetes or heart disease.

For these reasons, you should seek help for erectile dysfunction. A doctor can perform an evaluation, letting you know if your erection troubles are the result of another condition.

If an underlying health problem is affecting your sexual health, your doctor can offer treatment. If treatment for an underlying condition does not fix your your erectile dysfunction, there are other ways to directly treat the condition itself.

This article will give you basic information on the various ways you can get your sex life back in action.

Addressing underlying problems

Physical Causes

About 18 million American men have erectile dysfunction, and it is likely that millions more have erection problems. In most of these cases, the cause of erectile dysfunction is physical. In other words, these men's erection problems may be caused by disease, injury, or the side effects of drugs.

Examples of physical problems that cause erectile dysfunction include:

  • heart disease
  • hardened or narrowed blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • Parkinson's disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • low testosterone
  • Peyronie's disease, in which scar tissue develops inside the penis
  • certain prescription drugs
  • tobacco use, which can restrict blood flow to the veins and arteries that make the penis erect
  • alcohol use
  • recreational drug use
  • long periods of bicycling, which can compress nerves and restrict blood flow to the penis
  • prostate cancer treatments
  • treatments for enlarged prostate
  • injuries of the pelvic area or spinal cord
  • surgeries of the pelvic area or spinal cord

When you go in for an evaluation, your doctor is likely to look first for these physical causes of erectile dysfunction. If you are diabetic, getting your blood sugar under control may solve your erection problems. If you cannot get it up because of your weight, exercise may help.

While you may be embarrassed to talk about erectile dysfunction with your doctor, it is important to get an evaluation. Your doctor may find one of these underlying problems, which may be more dangerous than your erection troubles. Treating an underlying condition may not only improve your performance in the bedroom, but it also could save your life.

Psychological causes

Erectile dysfunction is not always caused by physical problems. Sometimes, it is in your head. That is, the problem may be psychological.

Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • fatigue

If you suffer from any of these mental health problems, a psychologist or counselor may be able to help. A therapist can provide you, or you and your partner, with the mental tools you need for a healthy sex life.

Anxiety may be unrelated to your sex life. But many men have trouble becoming erect because they have performance anxiety. These men are already worried that they will not be able to get an erection, which can cause erection problems or make your erectile dysfunction worse. A therapist can teach you how to become more comfortable in the bedroom.

If you are stressed, it may have nothing to do with your relationship. However, relationship problems can get in the way of your sex life, causing or worsening your erectile dysfunction. A therapist can provide you with ways to relax in reduce stress. Exercise, meditation, acupuncture, and massage are only a few examples of methods used to reduce stress.

Direct treatment of erectile dysfunction

If addressing an underlying condition or physical problem does not fix your erection troubles, your doctor may recommend treatments that are designed to directly tackle erectile dysfunction itself. These treatments include drugs, penis pumps, implants, and even surgery.

Oral medications

Many men have found that their erection problems are solved with the use of oral drugs such as:

These drugs help men achieve an erection by strengthening the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical produced by the body that relaxes muscles in the penis. Relaxing these muscles increases the amount of blood that can flow to the penis.

While these drugs work in a similar way, they have different dosages and side effects. The length of time they work also varies.

Keep in mind that you may not see immediate results from these drugs. It may take some time for you and your doctor to figure out which drug and how much of that drug you need.

These drugs are not for everyone. They can even be harmful, especially if you are taking certain drugs for chest pain; are taking blood-thinning drugs; have heart disease or heart failure; have had a stroke; have extremely low or high blood pressure; or have uncontrolled diabetes.

It is important to get your doctor's approval before you start taking any drugs for erectile dysfunction, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter.


With injectable drugs, you stick a very thin needle into the base or side of your penis in order to inject the medication.

At first, you might say to yourself, "There's no way I'm sticking a needle in my penis!" But do not worry; the needle used is so small that there is little pain.

The most common injection is a drug called alprostadil, which is sold under the brand names Caverject Impulse, Edex, and Prostin VR.

After an injection, you are likely to have an erection for about an hour.

Let your doctor know if you experience side effects such as bleeding from the injection site, an erection that lasts too long, or fibrous tissue at the injection site.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe drugs that are usually used for other conditions. These drugs, which are still injected, include papaverine and phentolamine.


As an alternative to injections, erectile dysfunction patients also can take alprostadil as a suppository, meaning you place a tiny pill inside your penis.

In this form, alprostadil is sold under the brand name MUSE.

Using a special tool, you insert MUSE into your penis through the urethra. Within 10 minutes, you should get an erection that is likely to last from 30 minutes to an hour.

Talk to you doctor if you experience side effects such as pain, slight bleeding in the urethra, or the formation of fibrous tissue inside your penis.

Testosterone replacement

Some men suffer from erectile dysfunction because of low levels of testosterone - a hormone made by the testes that helps maintain bone density, muscle strength, and sex drive.

If you have erection problems because of low testosterone, you may need testosterone replacement therapy.

Hormone replacement therapy comes in many forms, including:

  • pills
  • patches
  • injections
  • gels
  • gum and cheek tablets
Penis Pumps

Penis pumps are an artificial way to cause an erection. A tube is placed over the penis and then pumped to suck out the air in the tube. This pulls blood into the penis, causing an erection. A tension ring is then placed at the end of the penis to hold the blood in the penis to keep it firm.


Through a surgical process, inflatable or semirigid rods can be implanted into the two sides of the penis.

Inflatable implants give you control of your erections. You can decide when you want an erection and how long you want it to last.

The semirigid rods keep your penis firm but flexible.

Blood vessel surgery

Although it is rare, some men cannot get an erection because of a leaking blood vessel. These men may need surgery to fix the problem.

Herbal treatments: Do they work?

Herbs and other natural treatments for erectile dysfunction have been used for ages in many parts of the world. Nowadays, we see so-called herbal remedies at the counters of our local markets, in magazine advertisements, and all over the Internet.

Will these natural therapies work for you?

That question is not so easy to answer. Even though herbal therapies have been used in traditional medicines for centuries, there is little scientific evidence showing that they work.

That's not to say they don't work. Rather, they have been studied and tested like prescription drugs such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis. More research is needed to see if herbal therapies can be safe and effective in the treatment of erectile dysfunction.

Herbal remedies and natural supplements that have been used by men with erectile dysfunction include:

  • DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
  • horny goat weed (epimedium)
  • folic acid and vitamin E
  • ginkgo
  • ginseng
  • yohimbe
  • zinc

One very major issue to keep in mind is the idea of 'herbal Viagra.' After it was first produced, the popularity of Viagra prompted numerous companies to make what they said were herbal forms of Viagra. Unfortunately, many of these herbal substitutes contain unknown and potentially dangerous amounts of ingredients similar to those in prescription drugs. In some cases, these products even contain the actual drug, which should only be given with a prescription.

Because of these potential dangers, it is key to get your doctor's OK before taking any drugs or supplements. 

Last Updated:
February 28, 2012