Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the medical term for difficulty getting or maintaining an erection that is firm enough to engage in sexual activities.
ED is a common complaint, even among those who are young and otherwise healthy.
Occasional ED is not always a cause for concern. However, frequent or worsening ED can signal an underlying health condition that requires treatment.
This article lists the various medical specialists a person can see when seeking treatment for ED. It also outlines what will likely happen at an appointment and some questions to ask the doctor.
A person will usually raise any initial concerns about ED with their primary care provider (PCP).
The PCP will ask questions about a person’s symptoms and medical history. They may also ask whether or not the person has a family history of diabetes or heart disease, since these conditions can sometimes cause ED.
The PCP may order simple blood work to help determine whether or not the ED is due to an underlying health condition.
Depending on the outcome of the initial consultation and any later blood work, the PCP may refer the person to a specialist. The type of specialist a person sees will depend on the suspected cause of their ED.
The sections below will discuss some of these potential specialists in more detail.
A urologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the urinary tract, as well as sexual concerns in males.
Some issues they may help diagnose and treat include:
Someone may receive a referral to a urologist if they meet one of the following criteria:
- Their current treatment for ED is not working.
- Their doctor suspects an underlying issue with the urinary or reproductive system.
- They have a chronic urinary or reproductive issue that increases their risk of developing ED.
Heart disease and ED share many of the same risk factors. Because of this, ED can sometimes warn of an underlying issue with the heart.
Heart and cardiovascular issues can also increase the risk of developing ED.
A cardiologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions of the heart and blood vessels. Someone may receive a referral to a cardiologist if they meet one of the following criteria:
- They have preexisting heart or cardiovascular disease.
- They are at risk of developing heart or cardiovascular disease.
- They have a family history of heart or cardiovascular disease.
- Their PCP or urologist is unable to diagnose another cause of the person’s ED.
An appointment with an endocrinologist usually includes blood work, as well as answering some questions about lifestyle and sexual history.
Depending on the cause of ED, the doctor may prescribe one or more of the following:
- lifestyle changes, to help manage diabetes
- medications, to help manage diabetes
- hormone injections, to treat conditions such as low testosterone
Mental health provider
A mental health provider can help a person cope with any mental health issues that may be causing ED or those that arise as a consequence of ED.
The following mental health conditions can sometimes be the primary cause of ED:
A psychotherapist or psychiatrist may suggest treating mental health issues with talking therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
A person should be prepared to answer lots of questions during their first appointment for ED. The more information a person can provide, the greater the likelihood that the doctor will be able to diagnose the cause of the ED.
The doctor may ask the following questions:
- When did the ED begin?
- Do certain things seem to trigger the ED?
- Does the ED occur all the time or only some of the time?
- Does the ED occur before or during sex?
- How long does it typically take to get an erection?
- Is it possible to ejaculate or orgasm during sexual activity or masturbation?
- Do you feel anxious or notice other feelings when trying to get an erection?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
The doctor may also ask for information about lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise habits.
To diagnose ED, a doctor may perform the following tests:
- a prostate examination
- an examination of the penis, which may include tests to see whether or not a person perceives normal sensations in their penis
- an ultrasound scan, to measure blood flow to the penis
- an examination of the heart and lungs using a stethoscope
- blood pressure monitoring
- blood tests, to check for issues such as:
- hormonal imbalances
When seeing a doctor about ED, it may be helpful to ask the following questions:
- What are the most likely causes of ED in a person of my age and with my overall health?
- Will treating an underlying medical condition fix the ED? How long will it take to see results?
- Are there any other symptoms I should monitor for?
- What are the risks and benefits of ED medication?
- Are there any other treatment options to consider?
- Are there any lifestyle changes that may help my condition?
The treatment options for ED depend on its underlying cause. The sections below will discuss some potential treatments in more detail.
One popular treatment option for ED is sildenafil (Viagra). This medication works by increasing blood flow to the penis, thereby enabling and maintaining an erection.
Sildenafil may be a suitable treatment option for those with the following types of ED:
- occasional ED
- age-related ED
- ED for which a doctor cannot find an underlying cause
A doctor may recommend the following lifestyle changes for people who experience ED:
- quitting smoking
- avoiding or limiting alcohol consumption
- performing regular exercise
- eating a healthful diet
- seeking counseling for any mental health conditions that may be contributing to ED, such as:
- attending couples counseling, to explore ways of managing ED with a partner
Treatments for underlying health conditions
ED can sometimes occur as a result of an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. In some cases, treating the underlying condition may also cure the ED, or at least prevent it from getting worse.
Some other potential treatment options for ED include:
It is possible to receive help for ED via an online or telehealth platform. Indeed, many telehealth providers specifically advertise ED services because they know that some people may be anxious about seeing a health provider about this issue in person.
However, many health conditions that can cause ED require in-person testing. For example, a doctor cannot diagnose diabetes or cardiovascular disease over the internet.
A doctor who offers online services may be willing to prescribe medication as a short-term treatment for ED. However, they will usually recommend an in-person follow-up with an ED specialist. This is especially likely if there are other symptoms or a risk of conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
ED is a common complaint that can occur at any age. The condition can be a source of worry, frustration, and embarrassment.
An occasional inability to get or maintain an erection is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, frequent ED could signal an underlying mental or physical health condition that requires treatment.
Those who experience symptoms of ED should visit their doctor for diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Although an online doctor may be able to prescribe treatments for ED, they will not necessarily be able to diagnose the cause.
Diagnosing the cause will be necessary for the long-term management of ED.