Effective treatments can help men resume a normal sex life, free of worry about erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects more than 150 million men worldwide. Fortunately, safe and effective treatment options can help men to resume a happy and healthy sex life. Treatments such as prescription lifestyle medication, surgery, implants, testosterone therapy, and sex therapy have demonstrated effectiveness at diminishing ED symptoms long-term.
This article provides an overview of the seven top-ranked treatments and cures for erectile dysfunction. Read ahead to learn more about your options for living a life free of ED.
What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be rooted in both physical and emotional health problems. The most common cause of ED is physical conditions that restrict blood flow to the penis. Risk for ED typically increases with age, but can affect men under 40.
Physical causes of ED include:
- Chronic disease (e.g. heart disease, diabetes)
- Injury to the pelvis or penis
- Side effects from certain medications
- Tobacco or substance use
- Insomnia or other sleep disorders
Emotional causes of ED include:
- High stress
- Mood disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression)
- Relationship conflict
- Anxiety surrounding sexual performance
Can Erectile Dysfunction be Cured?
Research shows that ED can be reversed or reduced with treatment. Treating underlying medical conditions (e.g. diabetes) can prove successful at significantly reducing ED symptoms. However, sexual dysfunction is complex and often requires more than one treatment approach.
A combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatment are typically most successful at treating ED. A physician may recommend changing diet, exercise, and drinking habits. They may also start someone on medication prior to taking more intensive measures, such as surgery or injections.
Effective treatment methods include:
- Oral medications
- Testosterone therapy
- Penile injections
- Intraurethral therapy
- Vacuum pumps
- Sex therapy
Oral medications are often the first line of defense against ED symptoms. These phosphodiesterase type-5 (PDE5) inhibitors work by increasing blood flow to the penis. Research shows that PDE5 inhibitors are safe and highly effective at treating ED in most men.
Men should take these medications as needed, prior to sexual activity. Most physicians recommend taking these medications within 1-2 hours prior to sex. They typically begin working within 15-60 minutes.
The FDA has approved the following brand name drugs and their generic equivalents to treat ED:
- Viagra (sildenafil citrate)
- Levitra (vardenafil HCl)
- Cialis (tadalafil)
- Stendra (avanafil)
Testosterone therapy involves intensive therapy to balance testosterone levels. This therapy is typically recommended for men who have low blood levels of testosterone. Testosterone therapy may involve the use of injections, pills, or topical gels to increase testosterone production.
Research demonstrates that testosterone therapy is effective at treating mild ED. Men with more moderate to severe ED may benefit from normalizing testosterone levels and also using PDE5 inhibitors, like Viagra.
The most common surgical solution to ED is a penile implant. There are two types of implants used to treat ED, semirigid and inflatable. Both implants work by stiffening the penis, allowing sex to resume uninterrupted.
The semirigid implant is also referred to as the “bendable” implant. Two bendable rods are implanted in the penis so that the penis remains firm. The penis can be adjusted for sex, using the bathroom, and general comfort.
The most common inflatable implant is a device made of multiple pieces that are implanted within the penis and under the abdominal wall. The components of this device include a fluid-filled reservoir under the abdominal wall, a pump and release valve within the scrotum, and two inflatable cylinders inside the penis.
The inflatable implant works by pumping fluid from the reservoir into the cylinders. The fluid from the cylinders is released back into the reservoir. There are also two-part models available to patients.
Men who cannot take oral medications for ED may find success with penile injections. A penile injection involves the direct injection of the drug Alprostadil into either lateral side of the penis. A doctor will typically perform the first injection, then the patient will self-administer future injections prior to sex.
The injections are highly effective, with an 85 percent success rate in achieving a strong erection. The most commonly reported side effect is prolonged erection. Prolonged injection can be reversed with a follow-up injection, performed only by a medical provider.
Alprostadil, the same drug used in penile injections, can also be used as a suppository. Men use a special applicator to insert a small suppository into their urethra. The medication induces an erection within 10 minutes and can last up to 60 minutes.
A vacuum pump, commonly referred to as a “penis pump,” is a hollow tube that is either hand-powered or battery-powered. The pump works by creating a seal around the penis and pulling enough blood into the penis for an erection. Men can place a tension ring around the base of the penis to maintain their erection during sex.
The most common side effect of using a vacuum pump is bruising on the penis. A medical provider can help their patient to identify the best model for their needs. This mode of treatment is ideal for men who cannot use prescription medication.
Sex therapy can help to treat the underlying psychological causes of ED. Men can use therapy individually or with their partner to take steps to improve their psychological and sexual health. The course of therapy may be centered on addressing underlying anxiety or mood disorders, but may also include working through specific suggestions on improving sexual experience (e.g. foreplay, using lubricant).
How Can Someone Access Treatment?
The first step to accessing the right treatment is reaching out to a medical provider, either in-person or online. A medical provider can help men to identify the root causes of their ED. They can also recommend the best course of treatment for their specific needs.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).