What Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 16, 2020

A lot goes into achieving an erection. When you're turned on, nerves fire in your brain. Blood then flows into your penis. If all goes well, you’re ready for sex.

Sometimes, all does not go well. Occasional problems aren’t anything that need treatment. If issues happen more often, you may have erectile dysfunction or ED.

There are many things that can lead to ED. Stress, depression, anxiety, and alcohol use can often trigger it.

In other cases, physical factors are the culprit.

Sometimes, another disease will lead to ED, including the following:

Other reasons for ED can include:

  • Surgery: Nerves and tissue needed for an erection can be affected during procedures to treat prostate and bladder cancer. The problem often clears up, but it may take months. In some cases, the damage is permanent. If it is, there are treatments available to help you be ready for sex.
  • Injury: If you hurt your pelvis, bladder, spinal cord, or penis -- and you require surgery -- you may get ED.
  • Hormone problems: Hormones fuel sex drive. An imbalance can make you uninterested in sex. If you’ve had pituitary gland tumors, kidney or liver disease, depression, or hormone treatment for prostate cancer, talk with your doctor.
  • Venous leak: To keep an erection, the blood that flows into your penis has to stay a while. If it flows out too quickly, you’ll lose your erection. Injury or disease can cause this.
  • Tobacco, alcohol, or drug use: All three can damage your blood vessels. If you have artery problems, smoking will make ED much more likely.
  • Prescription drugs: There are more than 200 prescription drugs that can cause erectile dysfunction. Speak with your doctor if you think one of your medications may be causing this in you.
  • Prostate enlargement: It’s a normal part of aging for many men. It may also play a role.

Lots of men have dealt with or are dealing with erectile dysfunction. If you think you may have it, talk with your doctor and figure out the plan that’s best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference



The Family Doctor.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.

Erectile Dysfunction Information Center.

Up To Date.  

American College of Physicians.

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