Erectile Dysfunction Home > ED

ED (erectile dysfunction) is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. In older men, it is usually due to a physical cause (such as injury, disease, or side effects of medication); however, these are not the only causes. Treatment options for erectile dysfunction include lifestyle changes, counseling, drug therapy, vacuum devices, and surgery.

What Is ED?

Erectile dysfunction is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. In the past, erection problems were simply called "impotence." Now, the term "erectile dysfunction" is more commonly used, and sometimes people simply use the initials ED.
The word impotence may also be used to describe other problems that interfere with sexual intercourse and reproduction, such as:
  • Lack of sexual desire
  • Problems with ejaculation or orgasm.
Using the term ED makes it clear that those other problems are not involved.

Understanding the Penis and Erections

Hormones, blood vessels, nerves, and muscles must all work together to make an erection. The brain starts an erection by sending nerve signals to the penis when it senses sexual stimulation or arousal. Touching may cause this arousal. Another trigger may be something a person sees or hears. It may even be a sexual thought or dream.
The nerve signals sent from the brain cause the muscles within the penis to relax and let blood flow into the spongy tissue within the penis. Blood collects in this tissue like water filling a sponge. As a result, the penis becomes larger and firmer, like an inflated balloon. The veins in the area then become closed off to keep blood from flowing out.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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