Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common sexual performance issue that can occur in men of all ages and backgrounds.
If you have ED, you might find it difficult to get or maintain normal erections, even when you feel sexually aroused. This can have a noticeable negative impact on your sex life, relationships and overall quality of life as a man.
ED has long been a problem for men. As such, a large amount of time and money has been put towards developing treatments for erectile dysfunction over the past few decades.
Currently, the latest treatment options for ED include oral medications, vacuum erection devices and even surgical procedures to repair damage to the tissue of your penis that can make getting and maintaining an erection difficult.
Below, we’ve discussed how these treatments work, as well as which options you might want to consider if you’re one of the estimated 30 million men in the US affected by some form of ED.
So, what’s new and upcoming? Well, developing new treatments for medical conditions like ED takes time and money -- and a lot of both. This means that new technologies can take years to go from being in a research phase to becoming publicly available treatments.
Because erectile function issues are so common, experts are constantly looking into new ways to treat issues such as erectile dysfunction. New treatments under development include:
While this may sound scary, experts believe that the effects of these waves could help you with getting and maintaining an erection.
As promising as low-intensity shock treatment seems, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still very much in an early phase of research. As such, a lot more scientific research is necessary to properly assess its effectiveness and safety.
Also in research stages, injecting genetic material into your penis may improve erectile function and sexual performance.
One small-scale study involving 11 patients showed encouraging results when a single dose of DNA was injected into the penis. Although no adverse effects were reported, only 11 people in a single-dose study isn’t enough to call this type of treatment ready for the general public.
Stem cells are widely used to repair damaged tissues, and there have been promising results when stem cells were injected into the penile tissue of animals that failed to respond to older forms of treatment for PE.
Because stem cells can grow into numerous types of cells, it’s believed they can help to repair damaged or diseased tissues, including tissue inside the penis.
Although human clinical studies into stem cell therapy as a form of treatment for ED are limited, a small study carried out in Korea shows promising results in adult men with diabetes.
Platelets, which are found in your blood, are known to play an important role in the processes of tissue regeneration, inflammation and angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation).
Some early research suggests that injecting platelets and plasma proteins from your own blood into your penis may be helpful for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, particularly if you have a form of nerve injury.
However, the total amount of research into PRP for erectile dysfunction is limited, meaning we’ll need more studies before we know if this is a reliable treatment option.
Currently, the most common medications for erectile dysfunction are PDE5 inhibitors, a class of drugs we’ve discussed in more detail further down the page.
Researchers are constantly looking into new forms of medication for managing ED, and recent research has revealed several options with real potential.
These include dopaminergic medications, which work by targeting dopamine receptors located throughout your body, as well as melanocortin receptor agonists, which may improve erections and other aspects of sexual performance.
Unfortunately, some of these medications -- particularly melanocortin receptor agonists -- have significant adverse effects that make them less appealing as treatments for ED. These include severe vomiting and hypertension (high blood pressure).
Although many of these medications seem to show potential, it could be a long time before they become available to the public, if ever.
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Erectile dysfunction isn’t a new problem -- in fact, research suggests that it’s been around since the beginning of recorded human history. Descriptions of ED are found in all sorts of ancient art, including Greek cup paintings and Egyptian tombs.
Most treatments for ED were developed in the 20th century, including medications for improving blood flow and therapeutic techniques for improving relaxation and comfort in bed.
Currently, the most common way to treat erectile dysfunction is by making changes to your daily habits and using medication to increase blood flow to your penile tissue.
These lifestyle changes include keeping yourself physically active, maintaining a body weight in the healthy range, limiting your alcohol consumption, avoiding harmful drugs and, if appropriate, not using cigarettes or other products that contain nicotine.
When it comes to medication, erectile dysfunction is usually treated with oral prescription drugs referred to as PDE5 inhibitors.
These medications work by increasing the amount of blood flow to your penis, making it easier for you to get and maintain an erection sufficient for penetrative sex.
Several PDE5 inhibitors are available as prescription medications, including sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®). All of these medications can be used as-needed, usually 30 to 60 minutes before sexual.
In certain cases, such as with tadalafil, these medications can also be taken on a daily basis for ongoing relief from ED.
PDE5 inhibitors can cause mild side effects, including headaches, flushing, back or muscle pain, nasal congestion and dizziness. We’ve discussed these in more detail in our list of common side effects of Viagra.
In rare cases, PDE5 inhibitors can also cause issues like priapism, as well as a sudden drop in blood pressure levels when used with other medications. If you’re prescribed any medication to treat ED, your healthcare provider will inform you about side effects before starting treatment.
Of the PDE5 inhibitors that are on the market today, avanafil -- the active ingredient in Stendra -- is the newest. This medication works rapidly, often in as little as 15 minutes, and has a selective effect within your body that means it’s less likely to cause some side effects.
If PDE5 inhibitors aren’t an effective form of treatment for you, your primary care provider might suggest using injectable medication to stimulate an erection.
Injectable ED medications are delivered via syringe directly into your penis. Then generally work rapidly and provide near-instant relief of ED symptoms.
Alprostadil is one such injectable medication, which can also be taken as a small pellet inserted into your urethra. As you might imagine, although often effective, this type of medication can be unpleasant to administer, and therefore isn’t necessarily a good option for everyone.
Beyond medication, medical devices and surgical procedures are also used to treat severe and persistent erectile dysfunction.
Many men who have erectile dysfunction that doesn’t respond to medication use a penis pump, or vacuum device, to get hard. This type of device works by creating negative pressure around your penis, which increases blood flow into your erectile tissue.
While effective, vacuum devices are less popular with younger men because the erection often feels less natural.
Surgery for erectile dysfunction, on the other hand, generally involves fitting a penile implant or repairing the blood vessels inside your penis. Two types of implants -- inflatable implants and malleable implants -- are used during this type of procedure.
Implant surgery is often effective, but it also has a lengthy recovery period that usually lasts for at least four weeks. Like with other forms of surgery, there’s also a risk of tissue damage and infection.
Science is always evolving, and for a medical condition like ED that affects so many men, new treatments will always be pursued. Many future treatments for ED appear to have real potential for better erections and more reliable sexual function.
However, for the past several decades, PDE5 inhibitors have primarily been the first choice for doctors when it comes to medical treatments for erectile dysfunction.
These medications are available following an online evaluation with a licensed physician, who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
If you’re concerned about ED, speaking with a healthcare provider can help you to learn more about your options and, if appropriate, access the most effective form of treatment to improve your sexual function and overall sex life.
Dr. Jill Johnson is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner and board-certified in Aesthetic Medicine. She has clinical and leadership experience in emergency services, Family Practice, and Aesthetics.
Jill graduated with honors from Frontier Nursing University School of Midwifery and Family Practice, where she received a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialty in Family Nursing. She completed her doctoral degree at Case Western Reserve University.
Jill is a national speaker on various topics involving critical care, emergency and air medical topics. She has authored and reviewed for numerous publications. You can find Jill on Linkedin for more information.