Erection Problems: Should I Take Medicine?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Erection Problems: Should I Take Medicine?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Take medicine for erection problems.
  • Don't take medicine. Try home treatment instead.

Key points to remember

  • There are a number of treatments for erection problems. But medicines you take by mouth are usually tried first because they work well and are easy to use.
  • These medicines are not an option if you have heart disease and need to take nitroglycerin or other medicines that contain nitrates.
  • You may be able to treat some erection problems on your own. You can make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or drinking less alcohol. Doing sensual exercises may also help.
FAQs

What is an erection problem?

You have erection problems if you can't get or keep an erection that is firm enough for you to have sex. Erection problems are also called erectile dysfunction or impotence.

It's common to have erection problems every now and then. This is normal. These problems can occur at any age. But they are more common as you get older, when you are more likely to have other health problems. Treatment can help at any age.

What causes an erection problem?

Erection problems may be caused by physical problems related to the blood vessels, nerves, or hormones. Or they may be caused by mental health issues.

They can also be linked to other health problems such as low testosterone levels, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Surgery, such as for prostate cancer, may cause erection problems.

Anxiety, stress, and depression may cause erection problems. So can medicines you take for other health problems. Drinking too much alcohol or smoking may cause erection problems.

Why treat an erection problem?

The decision about whether to treat an erection problem is often based on personal preference. It may not be as easy as the decision about whether to treat other medical problems. Erection problems aren't life-threatening. But they can affect how you feel about yourself. If you are planning a pregnancy, you should talk with your doctor about how taking one of these medicines will affect your chances of conceiving.

Oral medicines (by mouth) can make treating an erection problem simple and easy. But you should think carefully about whether you want to treat your erection problem before you commit to trying one of these medicines.

What do you need to know about these medicines?

Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5 inhibitors) are commonly used oral medicines for erection problems. Examples include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). These medicines work well no matter what is causing the erection problem.footnote 1

These medicines should never be used if you may need to take a nitrate-containing medicine, such as nitroglycerin.

Talk with your doctor about whether medicines for erection problems are safe if you:

  • Have heart disease.
  • Have heart failure or low blood pressure.
  • Are taking drugs for high blood pressure.

What if you don't use these medicines to treat an erection problem?

You may be able to treat some erection problems on your own. Try these tips:

  • Change your lifestyle habits that affect erections. Don't smoke or use illegal drugs. Limit alcohol. For some people, losing weight and exercising more have been helpful.
  • Think about what is going on in your relationships and life that could be linked to your erection problems.
  • If you have one, talk with your partner about your erection problems.
  • Practice some sensual exercises with your partner, if you have one.

If these things don't work for you, don't be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about other things you might try.

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Take medicine for erection problemsTake medicine for erection problems
  • You take a pill. Some pills are taken before you plan to have sex.
  • The pills are simple and easy to use.
  • Side effects aren't common but can include headaches, flushed skin, an upset stomach, and a stuffy nose.
  • These medicines should never be used if you may need to take a nitrate-containing medicine, such as nitroglycerin.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether these medicines are safe if you:
    • Have heart disease.
    • Have heart failure or low blood pressure.
    • Are taking medicines for high blood pressure.
Don't take medicineDon't take medicine
  • You try other treatment, such as changing lifestyle habits that affect erections.
  • You practice sensual exercises with your partner, if you have one.
  • If you have a partner, you talk with your partner about your erection problems. Maybe having intercourse isn't that important to your sex life.
  • You avoid the cost and risks of medicines.
  • You will probably continue to have erection problems.

Personal stories about taking phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

A while back it began getting more difficult for me to have erections. For me, sex is a very important part of a relationship. I don't want to give this up. So I tried one of the medicines, and I cut back on how much alcohol I drink. It seems to be helping.

Marvin, age 67

When I began to have a problem getting an erection, I was pretty upset. I went right to my doctor, and he gave me a medicine to try. It worked all right for me, but he also suggested I talk about this with my wife. When we talked, I discovered she was not all that concerned about having sex as long as I gave her lots of loving attention. Finding other ways to say "I love you" has been important for both of us.

William, age 77

I was having trouble getting an erection. The doctor could find nothing physically wrong. I decided to try counseling, and I lost a little weight, too. I have noticed I have less trouble getting an erection now.

Carl, age 42

I sometimes have a problem getting an erection. Having sex is not as important to me as it was in the past, and I have some health problems that make taking these medicines risky. I'm not going to take them.

Nickolas, age 76

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to take medicine for erection problems

Reasons not to take medicine for erection problems

Being able to have intercourse is important to me.

Intercourse is important to me.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the side effects of medicines.

The side effects of medicines worry me.

More important
Equally important
More important

I've made lifestyle changes, and they haven't helped me with my erection problems.

I think making some lifestyle changes might help me with my erection problems.

More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind taking pills.

I want to avoid taking pills if I can.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Taking medicine

NOT taking medicine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1, Do oral medicines work well to treat erection problems?
2, Can anyone who is having an erection problem take these medicines?
3, Can you treat some erection problems on your own?

Decide what's next

1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Christopher G. Wood MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
Primary Medical Reviewer JoLynn Montgomery PA - Family Medicine

References
Citations
  1. Burnett AL, et al. (2018). Erectile dysfunction: AUA guideline. Journal of Urology, 200(3): 633–641. DOI: 10.1016/j.juro.2018.05.004. Accessed March 29, 2021.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Erection Problems: Should I Take Medicine?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Take medicine for erection problems.
  • Don't take medicine. Try home treatment instead.

Key points to remember

  • There are a number of treatments for erection problems. But medicines you take by mouth are usually tried first because they work well and are easy to use.
  • These medicines are not an option if you have heart disease and need to take nitroglycerin or other medicines that contain nitrates.
  • You may be able to treat some erection problems on your own. You can make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or drinking less alcohol. Doing sensual exercises may also help.
FAQs

What is an erection problem?

You have erection problems if you can't get or keep an erection that is firm enough for you to have sex. Erection problems are also called erectile dysfunction or impotence.

It's common to have erection problems every now and then. This is normal. These problems can occur at any age. But they are more common as you get older, when you are more likely to have other health problems. Treatment can help at any age.

What causes an erection problem?

Erection problems may be caused by physical problems related to the blood vessels, nerves, or hormones. Or they may be caused by mental health issues.

They can also be linked to other health problems such as low testosterone levels, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Surgery, such as for prostate cancer, may cause erection problems.

Anxiety, stress, and depression may cause erection problems. So can medicines you take for other health problems. Drinking too much alcohol or smoking may cause erection problems.

Why treat an erection problem?

The decision about whether to treat an erection problem is often based on personal preference. It may not be as easy as the decision about whether to treat other medical problems. Erection problems aren't life-threatening. But they can affect how you feel about yourself. If you are planning a pregnancy, you should talk with your doctor about how taking one of these medicines will affect your chances of conceiving.

Oral medicines (by mouth) can make treating an erection problem simple and easy. But you should think carefully about whether you want to treat your erection problem before you commit to trying one of these medicines.

What do you need to know about these medicines?

Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE-5 inhibitors) are commonly used oral medicines for erection problems. Examples include sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). These medicines work well no matter what is causing the erection problem.1

These medicines should never be used if you may need to take a nitrate-containing medicine, such as nitroglycerin.

Talk with your doctor about whether medicines for erection problems are safe if you:

  • Have heart disease.
  • Have heart failure or low blood pressure.
  • Are taking drugs for high blood pressure.

What if you don't use these medicines to treat an erection problem?

You may be able to treat some erection problems on your own. Try these tips:

  • Change your lifestyle habits that affect erections. Don't smoke or use illegal drugs. Limit alcohol. For some people, losing weight and exercising more have been helpful.
  • Think about what is going on in your relationships and life that could be linked to your erection problems.
  • If you have one, talk with your partner about your erection problems.
  • Practice some sensual exercises with your partner, if you have one.

If these things don't work for you, don't be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about other things you might try.

2. Compare your options

  Take medicine for erection problems Don't take medicine
What is usually involved?
  • You take a pill. Some pills are taken before you plan to have sex.
  • You try other treatment, such as changing lifestyle habits that affect erections.
  • You practice sensual exercises with your partner, if you have one.
  • If you have a partner, you talk with your partner about your erection problems. Maybe having intercourse isn't that important to your sex life.
What are the benefits?
  • The pills are simple and easy to use.
  • You avoid the cost and risks of medicines.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • Side effects aren't common but can include headaches, flushed skin, an upset stomach, and a stuffy nose.
  • These medicines should never be used if you may need to take a nitrate-containing medicine, such as nitroglycerin.
  • Talk with your doctor about whether these medicines are safe if you:
    • Have heart disease.
    • Have heart failure or low blood pressure.
    • Are taking medicines for high blood pressure.
  • You will probably continue to have erection problems.

Personal stories

Personal stories about taking phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"A while back it began getting more difficult for me to have erections. For me, sex is a very important part of a relationship. I don't want to give this up. So I tried one of the medicines, and I cut back on how much alcohol I drink. It seems to be helping."

— Marvin, age 67

"When I began to have a problem getting an erection, I was pretty upset. I went right to my doctor, and he gave me a medicine to try. It worked all right for me, but he also suggested I talk about this with my wife. When we talked, I discovered she was not all that concerned about having sex as long as I gave her lots of loving attention. Finding other ways to say "I love you" has been important for both of us."

— William, age 77

"I was having trouble getting an erection. The doctor could find nothing physically wrong. I decided to try counseling, and I lost a little weight, too. I have noticed I have less trouble getting an erection now."

— Carl, age 42

"I sometimes have a problem getting an erection. Having sex is not as important to me as it was in the past, and I have some health problems that make taking these medicines risky. I'm not going to take them."

— Nickolas, age 76

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to take medicine for erection problems

Reasons not to take medicine for erection problems

Being able to have intercourse is important to me.

Intercourse is important to me.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm not worried about the side effects of medicines.

The side effects of medicines worry me.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I've made lifestyle changes, and they haven't helped me with my erection problems.

I think making some lifestyle changes might help me with my erection problems.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I don't mind taking pills.

I want to avoid taking pills if I can.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Taking medicine

NOT taking medicine

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. Do oral medicines work well to treat erection problems?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. Oral medicines work well and are easy to use.

2. Can anyone who is having an erection problem take these medicines?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. These medicines should never be used if you may need to take a nitrate-containing medicine, such as nitroglycerin.

3. Can you treat some erection problems on your own?

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. To treat erection problems, you can make lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or reducing alcohol. Doing sensual exercises with your partner may also help.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.
 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Christopher G. Wood MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
Primary Medical Reviewer JoLynn Montgomery PA - Family Medicine

References
Citations
  1. Burnett AL, et al. (2018). Erectile dysfunction: AUA guideline. Journal of Urology, 200(3): 633–641. DOI: 10.1016/j.juro.2018.05.004. Accessed March 29, 2021.

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