Erectile Dysfunction

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Overview / Facts

More than 18 million American men suffer from erectile dysfunction, but help may not require a pill.

Erectile dysfunction -- also called "ED" or impotence -- is the inability to achieve or sustain an erection on repeated occasions. It's estimated that about two of every 100 American men have erectile dysfunction serious enough to warrant a doctor's visit, according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders. As men age, the risk of erectile dysfunction increases.

A new study from Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health shows nearly one in five men experience erectile dysfunction, but simple lifestyle changes may be enough to ward off the problem.

Erectile dysfunction was much more common among men with diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease and those who were physically inactive, the researchers found.

"The associations of erectile dysfunction with diabetes and cardiovascular risk factors may serve as powerful motivators for men who need to make changes in their diet and lifestyle," says researcher Elizabeth Selvin, PhD, MPH, of the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore, in a news release.

ED Common Among American Men

In the study, researchers examined the prevalence of erectile dysfunction and its association with other health problems in a sample of more than 2,100 men, aged 20 and older, who took part in a nationwide survey in 2001-2002.

Researchers classified men who reported being "sometimes able" or "never able" to get and keep an erection as having erectile dysfunction.

The results showed 18.4% of men over 20 suffered from erectile dysfunction.

The problem was much more common in older men, with 70% of men 70 or over reporting erectile problems, compared with 5% of men 20 to 40.

Healthy Lifestyle May Prevent ED

Aside from showing how widespread erectile dysfunction is, researchers say the results are significant because they suggest simple lifestyle changes like regular exercise and eating a healthy diet may ease the problem for many men by reducing the risk of heart disease and associated conditions.

The study showed that men with heart disease risk factors, diabetes, or a sedentary lifestyle were much more likely to report erectile dysfunction than healthier, more physically active men.

For example:

Almost 90% of men with erectile dysfunction had at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking, or diabetes.
50% of men with diabetes reported erectile dysfunction.

Men with diabetes were three times more likely to have ED than men without diabetes, even after adjusting for other risk factors.

Men who were physically inactive, such as those who hadn't engaged in vigorous physical activity for at least a month, were much more likely to have ED than men who were physically active.

Researchers say the association between ED and lack of physical activity suggests lifestyle changes, especially increasing exercise levels, may be effective, drug-free ways to treat and prevent erectile dysfunction.

At least 20 million American men have some degree of erectile dysfunction, and about one in 10 adult males suffers from ED long-term.

About 40% of men in their 40s report at least occasional problems getting and maintaining erections. So do more than half (52%) of men aged 40 to 70, and about 70% of men in their 70s.

Failure to achieve an erection less than 20% of the time is not unusual; treatment is rarely needed.

Atherosclerosis alone accounts for 50% to 60% of ED cases in men 60 and older. Between 35% and 50% of men with diabetes have ED, and ED may be a predictor for other vascular problems.