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Can Being Sick Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Nicholas Gibson

Published 05/25/2022

Updated 03/11/2024

When you picture being sick, you probably think of symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat and gastrointestinal issues such as stomach pain and nausea. 

In addition to affecting your respiratory system and digestive tract, many illnesses can also have a negative effect on your sexual health. Some can even contribute to issues such as a weak sex drive and even erectile dysfunction (ED).

Can being sick cause ED? The answer depends on the specific illness you have, as well as how your illness affects your overall health and well-being.

Below, we’ve explained what erectile dysfunction is, as well as how certain illnesses could affect your ability to get and maintain an erection.

We’ve also discussed what you can do to deal with erectile dysfunction when you’re feeling sick, from waiting until you feel better to using ED medication to improve blood flow to your penis and make maintaining an erection easier. 

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Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common issue that affects men of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, an estimated 30 million adult men in the United States alone are believed to be affected by some degree of erectile dysfunction. 

Like other sexual health issues, erectile dysfunction can vary in severity. Some men with ED find it difficult to get an erection at all, while others might be able to get an erection but find it difficult to maintain an erection that’s firm or long-lasting enough for satisfying sex.

Erectile dysfunction can have a major impact on your sex life. It can also have a negative effect on your relationships and mental health. When severe, ED can potentially lead to mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Our full guide to erectile dysfunction goes into more detail about what you may experience if you have ED, as well as how erectile dysfunction is treated. 

So, can getting sick cause erectile dysfunction? In many cases, yes. Getting and maintaining an erection may seem simple, but it actually involves a complex process of events that involve your endocrine system, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

When an illness disrupts any of these processes, it can interfere with your ability to feel aroused and/or maintain an erection. 

Your endocrine system is your body’s production center for hormones. It consists of a network of glands and organs that produce the hormones your body depends on for numerous vital internal functions, such as growth, metabolism and sperm production.

One of the many hormones produced by your endocrine system is testosterone, a sex hormone that regulates your level of interest in sexual activity.

Although the link between testosterone and erectile dysfunction isn’t completely clear, research generally shows that low testosterone levels are associated with sexual health issues, including difficulty getting an erection.

Your nervous system consists of billions of nerve cells throughout your body. It’s responsible for transporting chemical messages between different areas of your body, including your brain and penis.

Because your nervous system plays a vital role in taking in and processing information through your senses, it's critical for sexual arousal and functioning. In fact, erections typically begin with activity in your nervous system, which stimulates blood flow to your penis.

Finally, your vascular system, or circulatory system, consists of  your heart and network of blood vessels. This system delivers nutrients and oxygen to your organs, tissues and cells in the form of oxygenated blood.

Erections start with a functional sex drive, which allows you to feel interested in sex, as well as a certain level of sexual stimulation, which triggers a response from your nerves. 

This results in an increased level of blood flow to your penis, which is what allows your penis to become firm and enlarged during sexual activity. From start to finish, the process depends on optimal functioning of your endocrine system, nervous system and cardiovascular system.

So, how does being sick cause erectile dysfunction? Certain illnesses can affect these parts of your body and interfere with your sex drive, nerve function and blood flow. When this happens, you may find it more difficult than normal to get or maintain an erection

Other illnesses may cause symptoms that make you feel uncomfortable and less interested in having sex than normal. 

For example, can the flu cause erectile dysfunction? Influenza — a common respiratory illness that affects millions of American adults every year — often causes tiredness, headaches, fever and sore muscles — all symptoms that can get in the way of feeling interested in sex.

Being sick can also make you feel more stressed than normal — a known risk factor for erectile dysfunction. If you have depression or anxiety — both of which are linked to ED — feeling sick may make your psychological symptoms more severe and affect your sexual health. 

These factors can all have an impact not just on your erections, but on your level of interest in sex, your energy levels and your general well-being. 

One illness that’s directly linked to erectile dysfunction is COVID-19. Over the last year, several studies have found that men with COVID-19 have an elevated risk of developing difficulties with erections and sexual function. 

For example, research published in the journal Sexual Medicine in 2022, which used data from more than 260 thousand men, found that men had an increased chance of developing ED after COVID-19 infection.

Researchers haven’t yet pinpointed why or how COVID-19 causes ED, but some suspect it may be linked to the long-term effects of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health, which include harming blood vessels throughout the body.

If you’ve recently been sick with COVID-19 and find it difficult to get or maintain an erection after recovering, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider. 

Several chronic medical conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure, are linked to erectile dysfunction. These conditions can potentially affect your nerves and vascular system, both of which are involved in erections and sexual function. 

For example, known causes of ED include:

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

  • Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Peyronie’s disease

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Multiple sclerosis

Also important to know: can a hernia cause ED?

Certain mental disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) and anxiety disorders, are also linked to erectile dysfunction.

Unlike short-term illnesses, these conditions generally require ongoing treatment. If you have a chronic medical condition and have recently developed ED, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider about your symptoms.

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Erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable, either through the use of medication or changes to your habits and lifestyle. 

If you’re currently finding it difficult to develop or maintain an erection while you’re sick, try the treatment options below to improve your erections and sexual function. 

Focus on Getting Better

If you’ve only started to experience erectile dysfunction since getting sick, it’s generally best to focus on getting better before worrying about your sexual performance.

It’s normal to go through a sexual “off” day every once in a while, and failing to get or maintain an erection while you’re also dealing with a cold, flu or other illness doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a long-term problem.

Before changing your lifestyle or using medication to treat ED, try to focus on recovering from your illness. This could mean:

  • Taking it easy for a few days and avoiding sex entirely.

  • Using over-the-counter pain relief or other medication.

  • Avoiding contact with other people until you feel healthy.

  • If necessary, visiting your primary care provider for help. 

You might find that your sex drive and ability to get an erection return once your illness passes and you’re feeling healthy again. 

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Use ED Medication

If you still have erectile dysfunction after your illness passes, you may want to consider using an ED medication such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) or avanafil (Stendra®) to improve your erections and sexual performance.

These medications, which are called PDE5 inhibitors, work by increasing blood flow to the soft, sponge-like erectile tissue inside your penis. This can make it easier for you to get an erection and maintain it when you feel sexually aroused. 

ED medications are safe and effective for most men. However, they can cause side effects and drug interactions, including with some medications used to treat chronic illnesses. Our guide to the side effects of Viagra discusses these issues in more detail. 

We offer several erectile dysfunction medications online following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. 

Consider Making Changes to Your Habits and Lifestyle

Certain habits can affect your health and increase your risk of developing ED, potentially due to a chronic health condition. 

To improve your general health and reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction, try the following healthy habits and lifestyle changes:

  • Keep yourself active by exercising for 30 minutes a day, even if it’s just a quick walk or bike ride around your neighborhood.

  • If you’re overweight, try to lose weight. Aim for a healthy body weight in the 18.5 to 24.9 body mass index (BMI) range.

  • Quit smoking, as nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes can affect your heart health and reduce blood flow throughout your body.

  • Get your testosterone checked, as low levels of testosterone can cause symptoms such as weak erections and a lack of interest in sex.

  • Eat a balanced diet that’s built around fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources and complex carbohydrates, all while limiting your intake of saturated fat and sodium.

Our guide to naturally protecting your erections shares other habits and techniques that you can use for better erections and sexual performance.  

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Being sick can affect your body in many ways, including by affecting your erections and general level of interest in sex. 

When you’re sick, you may find that it’s harder to get and maintain an erection than normal. You may also feel fatigued, drained and less interested in sex than when you feel healthy. These are normal feelings and they often improve gradually as you get better. 

If you have persistent erectile dysfunction that continues after you recover from your illness, you may want to consider using medication to improve your erections and sexual performance.

We offer a range of erectile dysfunction medications online, including options such as sildenafil, tadalafil and Stendra

You can also learn more about dealing with ED in our full guide to the best treatment options for erectile dysfunction, which covers everything from medications to therapy, pelvic floor exercises, vacuum constriction devices and more.

13 Sources

  1. Definition & Facts for Erectile Dysfunction. (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts
  2. Hiller-Sturmhöfel, S. & Bartke, A. (1998). The Endocrine System: An Overview. Alcohol Health and Research World. 22 (3), 153-164. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761896/
  3. Could you have low testosterone? (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000722.htm
  4. InformedHealth.org. (2016, August 19). How does the nervous system work? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279390/
  5. Panchatsharam, P.K., Durland, J. & Zito, P.M. (2021, May 9). Physiology, Erection. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513278/
  6. InformedHealth.org. (2019, January 31). How does the blood circulatory system work? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279250/
  7. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu). (2021, August 26). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
  8. Symptoms & Causes of Erectile Dysfunction. (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes
  9. Chu, K.Y., et al. (2022, February). COVID-19 Infection Is Associated With New Onset Erectile Dysfunction: Insights From a National Registry. Sexual Medicine. 10 (1), 100478. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34931145/
  10. Cenko, E., et al. (2021, December 17). Cardiovascular disease and COVID-19: a consensus paper from the ESC Working Group on Coronary Pathophysiology & Microcirculation, ESC Working Group on Thrombosis and the Association for Acute CardioVascular Care (ACVC), in collaboration with the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA). Cardiovascular Research. 117 (14), 2705-2729. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34528075/
  11. Dhaliwal, A. & Gupta, M. (2021, June 25). PDE5 Inhibitors. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/
  12. Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction. (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/treatment
  13. Preventing Erectile Dysfunction. (2017, July). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/prevention
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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