Don’t Ignore Erectile Dysfunction

May signal early cardiovascular disease

man awake on edge of bed frustrated

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, isn’t just about sex. It can be a red flag for a number of medical conditions and shouldn’t be ignored, experts say.

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“New onset of erection problems is often an early sign of cardiovascular disease,” says urologist Daniel Shoskes, MD. “Erectile dysfunction can signal compromised blood flow in other parts of the body.”

It can also be a sign of other medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and low testosterone.

That’s why, he says, even if you’re not bothered by it or don’t want treatment, you need to tell your doctor about any ED issues.

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Of course, besides medical conditions, there are other possible causes for ED:

  • Some prescription medications, which can cause difficulty getting or maintaining an erection
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco or other controlled substances, which can cause erection problems
  • Injuries to the spinal cord and surgeries on the spine or pelvic area, including procedures to treat prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate gland

Do I need treatment for ED?

“There is no stringent guideline about when erectile dysfunction becomes a problem,” Dr. Shoskes says.

“It is more about the degree of bother for the patient. But if you feel your ability to get and maintain an erection and have sex comfortably is compromised, you should come in for an assessment,” he says. “If a man wants to have better erections and intercourse, we can make it happen in just about any man.”

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Treatment options for ED

Multiple treatment options are available, and your doctor will work with you to find something that works for your lifestyle. Treatment options include:

  • Oral medications. These include sildenafil citrate (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®) and vardenafil HCl (Levitra®).
  • Penile injections or suppositories. These use drugs that produce erections.
  • Hormone replacement. This treatment is appropriate if low testosterone is to blame.
  • Vacuum pumps. These should only be pumps recommended by your doctor because others may not be safe to use.
  • Penile implants. These include inflatable or semi-rigid rods.

“ED isn’t always caused by a medical issue,” Dr. Shoskes says. “Sometimes it is a psycho-emotional issue, but we often use pills to treat it anyway because they are safe and effective for a wide swath of the population.”

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