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What is erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Erectile dysfunction — also called ED — is when you have trouble getting or maintaining an erection. This means your penis can't get erect (hard) enough to have sex, or it can't stay hard enough to finish having sex.

Most people who have ED are 65 or older. But it can happen at any age. And not all older people have ED — many older people can still get hard, though some may have different needs for getting and staying hard than younger people.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction is caused by:

  • Getting older

  • Stress, anxiety, and depression

  • Various medicines, including feminizing hormone therapy

  • Relationship issues

  • Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which also causes heart disease and stroke

  • Chronic liver or kidney disease

  • Diabetes (high blood sugar) 

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) 

  • Low testosterone 

  • Using alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

Are there erectile dysfunction treatments? 

Your ED treatment will depend on the cause. Treatment options include: 

  • Pills from a doctor or nurse — like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis — may help you get and stay hard. But not everyone can use them safely. 

  • A vacuum pump device that you put your penis in to help it get and stay hard 

  • Counseling or psychotherapy

  • Medicines injected into your penis or put into your urethra

  • Surgery  

  • If your ED is caused by transgender hormone therapy, your doctor or nurse may be able to adjust your hormone levels to help with ED.

If your doctor or nurse thinks you have erectile dysfunction, they may refer you to a urologist to talk about your treatment options.

What can I do to prevent erectile dysfunction?

Keeping your body healthy can help prevent erectile dysfunction:

  • Stay at a healthy weight

  • Avoid smoking

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

  • Take care of any medical problems you might have

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