Erectile dysfunction

Synonyms: ED, Impotence

Medical Specialties: Internal medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, Urology

Clinical Definition

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. ED may or may not be associated with other kinds of sexual dysfunction, such as decreased libido or problems with orgasm and/or ejaculation.

In Our Own Words

Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when a man is unable to achieve a penile erection or maintain it sufficiently for sexual intercourse. While occasional inability to achieve an erection may be due to alcohol or extreme fatigue, ED is more of an ongoing problem, often caused by a medical condition, stress, alcoholism or psychological/relationship problems.


Common physiologic causes of erectile dysfunction include vascular disease (i.e., when the blood supply to the penis is blocked or narrowed due to atherosclerosis) and neurological disorders (i.e., when the nerves sending impulses to the penis have been damaged). Prescription drugs that fight depression, cancer, seizures and other serious health conditions may also play a influential role in erectile dysfunction.

Relevant Conditions
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
Common Types
  • Depression/stress-related
  • Medication-induced
  • Age-related
Side Effects
  • Difficulty getting or maintaining an erection
  • Avoidance of sex
  • Relationship problems
Share this article
  • Harvard Health Publications. “Medical Dictionary of Health Terms.” Accessed August 2013.
  • Cleveland Clinic. “Heart Disease & Erectile Dysfunction.” Updated April 2012. Accessed August 2013.
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