At Memorial Hermann Health System, we are dedicated to providing patient-centered, comprehensive care for men in all stages of life. Our award-winning specialists diagnose, treat and manage a wide range of urological and men’s health conditions to deliver the best possible patient experience.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a difficult topic to discuss, but it is important to remember that it is a common condition among men. In addition to contributing to stress and relationship problems, ED can be a symptom of a serious underlying health condition that needs to be addressed. If you are experiencing ED, Memorial Hermann-affiliated urologists can help identify the cause and create a treatment plan specifically for your needs.

What is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection. The condition can also be called “impotence.” With ED, a man’s penis does not stay firm enough to engage in sexual intercourse.

Difficulty maintaining an erection can happen for a variety of reasons: when blood flow to the penis is decreased, when dealing with stress or emotional difficulties, or as a result of an underlying health condition such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Experiencing some degree of ED, periodically, is a normal occurrence. However, if erectile dysfunction happens frequently, or increases in frequency, this indicates a medical problem that needs treatment.

How common is ED?

Some studies show that about 10% of men suffer from chronic (long term) ED, while higher percentages of men experience ED periodically.

Erectile dysfunction can affect men of all ages, but it is more common in older men. By age 50, around 50% of men report experiencing episodes of mild or moderate ED. This percentage continues to increase with age.

Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

Common symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Difficulty getting an erection
  • Difficulty keeping an erection
  • Decreased interest in sexual activity

Causes and Risk Factors of Erectile Dysfunction

In many cases, ED is caused by an underlying health condition. Studies suggest that ED is linked to cardiovascular disease, so finding the cause of erectile dysfunction is important to your overall health.

ED can be caused by both physical-health problems and emotional-health problems:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep disorders, including obstructive sleep apnea
  • Prostate cancer
  • Enlarged prostate
  • Low testosterone (Low T)
  • Depression or anxiety

Men with various risk factors are more likely to develop ED:

  • Age 50+
  • Underlying health problems, such as heart conditions, diabetes, obesity or depression
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Excessive tobacco use
  • Certain medications
  • Pelvic injuries

Diagnosis of Erectile Dysfunction

If you have persistent difficulty getting or keeping an erection, your physician may diagnose ED. The next step is to determine whether or not you have an undiagnosed health condition that is causing your ED. That diagnosis can be important to resolving your erection difficulties and also for your general health.

Your physician may recommend testing to identify or rule out an underlying condition:

Physical exam

An overall exam, including your genitalia, may be indicated.

Psychological exam

Your physician can speak with you to look for signs of depression, anxiety or other psychological concerns. 

Urinalysis (urine test)

A urine sample can be used to help identify possible infections or underlying health conditions like diabetes.

Routine blood test

A blood sample can be used to help identify problems with your heart health, cholesterol levels, testosterone levels or glucose levels (test for diabetes).

Imaging test

Ultrasound technology can be used to examine the blood supply in your penis.

Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction

Finding the right ED treatment begins with having an accurate diagnosis of the cause. If you have an underlying condition, the first step is to resolve or manage that condition.

If cardiovascular conditions are contributing to your erection difficulties, your physician may recommend lifestyle changes such as eating healthier foods, increasing exercise, maintaining a healthy BMI, or discontinuing tobacco or alcohol use.

If psychological conditions are contributing to your erection difficulties, your physician may recommend seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist or other counselor.

To treat ED, specifically, your physician may recommend any of the following:


Usually, medications are the first treatments used for ED.

Oral medications

Popular medications like Viagra or Cialis can increase blood flow and relax muscles to make it easier to maintain an erection.

Other medications

If oral medications are not well tolerated, there are other options. Medications can also be administered through suppositories or injections directly into the penis.

If low testosterone (Low T) is causing your ED, you may consider testosterone replacement therapy. Testosterone can be administered through topical gels, patches, suppositories or injections.

Penis pumps or penile implants

If medications are not effective, your physician may recommend other methods of treatment.

Penis pump

This device is used to increase blood flow to your penis. It is a vacuum-type device that is placed on your penis, and activated to create suction and bring the additional blood flow needed to maintain an erection.

Penile implants

This is a surgical treatment to implant devices into your penis to help maintain an erection.

Scheduling an appointment

Memorial Hermann-affiliated urologists are committed to using a multidisciplinary approach to provide exceptional urological care. Our highly skilled practitioners utilize leading-edge treatments for a full range of men’s health concerns.

ED is a common problem, and even though it may be embarrassing to discuss, it is important to see a physician. To find out if ED treatment is right for you, schedule an appointment with a urologist today.