Health & Wellness

The State of Men's Health: Treating Erectile Dysfunction

By MSF Staff and reviewed by the MSF Medical Advisory Board
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common. According to a Johns Hopkins study, nearly 20 percent of American men are affected. Among men aged 40 through 70, the numbers climb to 50 percent.
Though the condition is highly treatable, only 10 to 15 percent of those experiencing ED seek medical solutions. While sometimes embarrassing or difficult to acknowledge, ED can be a warning sign of greater physical problems and ignoring the symptom can result in other health consequences.
“ED may just be the tip of the iceberg,” explains Dr. Michael Young, former chairman of urology at Illinois Masonic Medical Center and St. Joseph's Hospital in Chicago. “When the penis is put on demand and fails, that may be an underlying sign of something else. The bulk of ED cases are caused by vascular disease, so you want to make sure that's not occurring in the coronary arteries and that there are not other diseases present, like diabetes.”
The clinical definition of ED, according to Young, is “a failure to obtain and maintain an erection satisfactory for intercourse” over a course of three months. So, just because you are unable to perform as frequently or in the same way you did when you were younger, you aren’t necessarily experiencing ED.
The use of over-the-counter supplements is common but the results are unproven. The Center for Science in the Public Interest challenged the claims of Enzyte, a popular herbal remedy, which eventually recanted claims of “added length” and manufacturers of the supplement have been involved in lawsuits.
The prescription drugs Viagra®, Levitra® and Cialis® are proven effective in improving erections by increasing blood flow. However, consultation with your doctor is still vitally important in order to determine the source of the problem.
“ED is common in the general male population and more so in guys with MS,” comments MSF Medical Advisor Ben Thrower, M.D. “But MS is quite variable from person to person. Some men with MS report no sexual dysfunction. Talk to your doctor. If you have no other health issues, such as hypertension or diabetes, it’s probably a safe bet that ED is a symptom of your MS or a side effect from one of your medications. If other health issues are involved, it may be tough to know the exact cause of the ED.”
(Last reviewed 7/2009)