Is erectile dysfunction always a sign of a health problem?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is often caused by lifestyle choices, but may also be a sign of a health problem. Smoking, excessive drinking, overweight or obesity, and lack of exercise are all associated with ED. These lifestyle factors may also raise your risk for cardiovascular (heart and vessel) disease, nerve damage, diabetes, endocrine (hormonal) disorders or high blood pressure. Men who are depressed frequently experience ED as well.

Your doctor can evaluate whether ED is caused by a medical condition or is a sign of one, and recommend appropriate changes to your lifestyle and other treatment.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Erectile dysfunction (ED) may be a sign of a physical health problem such as heart disease. But it can have other causes too. Too much drinking can cause it. So can drug use: cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, marijuana. Emotional issues can also cause ED, including anxiety, stress, depression, relationship problems, and certainly a history of sexual abuse. Of course, your emotional health is key to your overall health too, so if your ED is rooted in emotional issues, that's a health problem! Don't be embarrassed. You and 30 million other American men are experiencing some form of ED. Talk to your doctor about the many successful treatments available to restore your health, and the health of your sex life.

It depends on whether you consider your emotional well-being to be part of health. If you do, then erectile dysfunction (ED) is always a sign of a health problem, either physical or psychological. Most of the time, there is an underlying physical health problem, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease. But your most powerful sex organ is your brain! Your brain can cause ED, too. Emotional health conditions such as depression or an anxiety disorder can lead to ED. So can issues that arise with your partner, even if you don’t have a mood disorder. Every man finds his ardor flagging in the bedroom from time to time. If that happens, you might worry about it the next time you are ready to make love. That worry can short-circuit your brain’s signal to trigger and maintain an erection. Psychologists call this performance anxiety. The best treatment is good communication with your caring partner. If ED continues, therapy can help, especially if both of you participate. Therapy often focuses on helping couples find ways to express their love and sexuality for each other outside of intercourse. That takes the pressure off the act. And this is one therapy that’s safe to try at home!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.