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What is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, is the inability to achieve or sustain an erection for satisfactory sexual activity. Erectile dysfunction is different from other conditions that interfere with male sexual intercourse, such as lack of sexual desire (decreased libido) and problems with ejaculation and orgasm (ejaculatory dysfunction). This article focuses on the evaluation and treatment of erectile dysfunction.



How common is erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED, impotence) varies in severity; some men have a total inability to achieve an erection, others have an inconsistent ability to achieve an erection, and still others can sustain only brief erections. The variations in severity of erectile dysfunction make estimating its frequency difficult. Many men also are reluctant to discuss erectile dysfunction with their doctors due to embarrassment, and thus the condition is underdiagnosed. Nevertheless, experts have estimated that erectile dysfunction affects 30 million men in the United States.


While erectile dysfunction can occur at any age, it is uncommon among young men and more common in the elderly. By age 45, most men have experienced erectile dysfunction at least some of the time. According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, complete impotence increases from 5% among men 40 years of age to 15% among men 70 years and older. Population studies conducted in the Netherlands found that some degree of erectile dysfunction occurred in 20% of men between ages 50-54, and in 50% of men between ages 70-78. In 1999, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey counted 1,520,000 doctor-office visits for erectile dysfunction. Other studies have noted that approximately 35% of men 40-70 years of age suffer from moderate to severe ED, and an additional 15% may have milder forms.



What is normal penis anatomy?

The penis contains two chambers, called the corpora cavernosa, which run the length of the upper side of the penis. The urethra, which is the channel for urine and ejaculate, runs along the underside of the corpora cavernosa. Filling the corpora cavernosa is a spongy tissue consisting of smooth muscles, fibrous tissues, spaces, veins, and arteries. A membrane, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora cavernosa. Veins located in the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.



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